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The Other Side of Diversity (medium.com)
704 points by rouma7 1115 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 447 comments



Black engineer here. Fresh out of college, I worked as a developer for one year and couldn't take it. Interesting work, competent teammates, but that constant feeling of unbelongingness and "sticking out like a sore thumb" -- I couldn't take it. So I went back to (grad) school. I kept telling friends and family going back to school was a "good career move". I honestly just wanted to restore my sanity.

Thank you so much for writing this, it reflects my experiences perfectly. I can only imagine how additionally difficult it must be for women.


I wonder how much of the "sticking out" is self-imposed. At times, I have felt the same way as you and the author have expressed. At others, I think I am making it up. It's stressful to feel like every move is scrutinized because of something I have no control over.

I am tired of the "sticking out" feeling, real or imaginary. So, I started a Meetup group for black engineers. Sometimes, it's really nice to just relax and feel comfortable. No worries about someone attributing my behavior to being black, or judging all black people by something that I've said or done.

Right now, I am hoping to rally folks to come to Philadelphia in 2 weeks for a black hackathon. It's a great way to network and teach. Check out http://www.mbkhack.com/ for more info. If you're in NYC and interested, we will have a pre-meeting before we go. The link is in my profile.


White engineer (and startup founder) here. Could you explain what it feels like/what you think causes it in a little bit more detail? I care very deeply about diversity and making everyone feel included in our company, but it's hard to do without having a deep understanding of why people who don't feel included feel that way.

What exactly do people do? Do you feel they make assumptions about what you're like? Or is it that you feel you can't be yourself because if you act the way you feel is natural and still get your work done, people mistakingly perceive you as unprofessional?

For people who are in a position to change work environments and make them more inclusive, what can we do? What changes do you think we could make to accept people from different backgrounds? (I mean actually accept, not just have a friendly slogan that makes everyone self-satisfied, but doesn't actually accomplish anything)

EDIT: the OP mentions obviously sexist/racist comments that border on sexual harassment. Obviously you have to instill the culture of diversity by firing people who do that the moment you overhear them. But what else can we do that might be a little more subtle/less obvious?


I'm a white male mathematician, and have spent a good deal of time working in east Africa over the last few years. Going to Kenya was my first experience with being a visible minority, and working in the Universities, I'm guessing, might approximate what the article is getting at. There was clearly an established culture within the departments, amongst the people I was working with, that I simply couldn't be a part of. At the same time, I was subject to quite a bit of street harassment, though not workplace harassment, which made it very difficult to make connections with people, because the defenses you deploy against possible harassment become an impediment to making strong connections with people. Meanwhile, things like being vegetarian create a kind of gulf with working colleagues.

I think one of the most important things you can do is to actively nurture leadership amongst minority members of your team. By supporting their ideas (both for engineering and social activities) you'll help empower them and make them into insiders. People struggling to fit in will speak more softly, and be more fearful of putting ideas forward; listen closely, amplify good ideas, and make sure that the right people get the credit for them.


I think it's great that you put this question out here. The funny thing (in my experience) is that white people DO understand exactly how it feels, they just aren't always honest enough with themselves to realize it.

The Experiment: Go to whatever is considered to be the worst neighborhood in your town. At night. Alone. Do something completely normal. For example, buy something from a gas station, walk into a nightclub, etc. How do you feel? Out of place? Scared? Not sure how to act?

Well, that's the feeling the OP is describing. The immediate defensive response is usually to think "that's different...those neighborhoods are DANGEROUS. I could be killed." Granted, black people can certainly be in danger just for being in white neighborhoods (think unprovoked police shootings), but even if your biggest fear is losing your job or something of that nature, it isn't all that different.

I think, ultimately, the best way to promote an inclusive workplace is to hire a diverse team. Really put effort into finding candidates from diverse backgrounds. That means expanding your circle even when you aren't actively recruiting. (also, try not to ever say "binders full of women")


"The Experiment" is comparing two different things. One's an issue of personal safety combined with elements of not fitting in, the other's an issue of not fitting in, combined with elements of career stressors.

You say it isn't all that different, but having experienced too much of both, it is.

Both are real, and sometimes both occur at once, but to say a white guy in a predominantly non-white and high-crime neighborhood would gain empathy for a non-white coder in a predominantly white tech company, would be as absurd as claiming the reciprocal.


A better comparison might be moving to a different country and getting a job there when you don't completely understand the culture and possibly have a language barrier (which I've gone through). You don't feel unsafe, but you don't quite fit in, you feel homesick, you don't mesh well with your coworkers, and you feel a constant background radiation of insecurity because you aren't used to the legal system, the social support system, etc. Your coworkers might make slight jokes about you. They mean well, but it sure as heck doesn't help your situation.

That feeling really (really) sucks. It must suck ten times as much when it's happening in your own country. I really feel for people who are forced to experience this.


The issue of personal safety is almost always overblown. The difference between the best part of town (i.e. where you feel comfortable) and the worst part of town (where you are uncomfortable), anywhere I've ever been, has been at most a relatively small degree. The perception of the issue is almost always caused by the "not fitting in" part.

Further, career stresses are frequently underplayed in the tech environment. Certainly, I would feel very little worry about saying, "Adios, and I'll leave my badge on my desk on my way out." On the other hand, if you are not part of the tech culture and everyone you know is either unemployed or working, say, outside the tech field, the potential of being punished simply for standing out is a bigger worry than I suspect you really think.

In other words, it isn't the same thing, but it's not as absurd as you might believe.


But those neighborhoods aren't really that dangerous. For example, many people go on vacation to places that are more dangerous than the worse neighborhoods in their town (Jamaica and Mexico come to mind). Even the "safe" places in those countries are more dangerous than the "dangerous" places in any average US town.


Personal safety is an extension of not fitting it - it's hard to read the cues about who or what might be a threat to you as opposed to a mere annoyance. Of course one is unlikely* to face a physical threat in the workplace equivalent to heading to a dive bar surrounded by broken bottles, but your career risk is just an abstraction of the corporal risk and can be just as stressful.

* as a man anyway.

I've also experienced a great deal of both and I disagree with your read. It's easy to think up non-racial examples as well; someone who's gay in a frat-themed work environment, or a middle-class guy ending up at a bar populated by Hell's Angels or suchlike. The differences with race and gender, obviously, are that it's almost impossible to obscure those facts about yourself so you can't even fake that you fit in.


Come now, I've spent plenty of time as the only white person in sight, and it never felt anywhere near as uncomfortable as walking by druggies, needles out, late at night. Or going through the empty NYC subways at 4AM. Or the guy who pulled a knife on me.

Social anxiety is real, but do you really find the fear of imminent injury/death no more terrifying than social harm?


The point is that there is this ridiculous misconception that everyone in "bad" neighborhoods is constantly being shot at. I just said go to one of those neighborhoods and do something like shop at a gas station or nightclub. I didn't say a thing about knives, druggies, or anything of the sort.


Fear of bodily harm is certainly far more acute, but it's also concentrated in time, even though it may be encountered regularly or frequently. While social anxiety is more of a chronic issue, I think it can be just as stressful in the aggregate - I did choose the word 'stressful' deliberately above.


Increasing racial diversity as a solution is a recommendation without empirical grounding. I am a white male and I work part time in ed tech. Our department is quite mixed - both my supervisor and the head of our department are black woman. However, there is little collegiality here.

And this matches the literature - the more ethnic/racial diversity in a community, the less civic engagement and trust (1). I'm not sure what the answer is, but the research suggests diversity is not a universal panacea. Like anything else, there are benefits and liabilities involved - and there are other considerations to take into account.

For example, I wonder if her co-workers had been more like her in other ways, such as matching her taste in video games, dress, attitude and so on - if her experience would have been different. In my department I suspect it's mostly these other things (work and personality styles especially) that are the reason for the lack of cohesion.

The best groups I've been a part of are those that mixed the right amount of same and different. We need to feel some commonality with others to form bonds, but we also need enough differences to challenge and stimulate us. Effective hiring practices require attention to both, else company and employee will suffer.

(1) http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/t...

*Edited to expand on the point/add clarity.


The research I've seen claims that the benefit of diversity is higher performance, not increased collegiality. They may even be inversely correlated. From a Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern) piece (1):

"The mere presence of diversity in a group creates awkwardness, and the need to diffuse this tension leads to better group problem solving... while homogenous groups feel more confident in their performance and group interactions, it is the diverse groups that are more successful in completing their tasks."

(1) http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/better_decis...


Apples and oranges. The issue Erica is concerned about is her social discomfort at work, not her team's performance. Also, the study you cite was measuring gender and length of group membership diversity, not racial/ethnic diversity.


The last team I worked on had 2 Englishmen, 5 Indians, 2 Pakistanis, a Frenchman, a Portuguese, a Greek, an Australian, and a Kazakh. It was chaos. No one understood each other, and so heated arguments were the norm. This was not higher performance.


Presumably any benefits gained from diversity can very easily be lost in the mix of language and true cultural barriers. In the spirit of the article it'd be more relevant if it were a mix of genders, races, and socioeconomic standing at birth than a mix of different nationalities, languages, and workplace customs.


"if it were a mix of genders, races, and socioeconomic standing at birth" Clearly the latter two were the case. The gender mix was about 30% female.


What I meant was the language barrier almost certainly added more complication than the diversity.


I generally agree with you, but ... http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html

There is also the "problem" of mixing professional and personal relationships. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but some individuals absolutely do. not. want. For teams where the workplace is the social hub for most but not all, those stuck at the social periphery are most likely going to suffer professionally. And this doesn't even get into class differences (as in, those protected classes, not socioeconomic) and feelings of not belonging.


This is quite late, but I just want to clarify: I am not "against" diversity. I am merely contesting the idea that the answer to all issues around having employees feeling uncomfortable or discriminated against at work is not as simple as: "just add diversity". I have no idea what the answer is, but the research and my experience suggest it is a lot more complicated than that.


I think, ultimately, the best way to promote an inclusive workplace is to hire a diverse team.

I'd say that's the start. You're creating favorable conditions. The important step is to have open and honest communications, even around issues as sensitive as race.

(also, try not to ever say "binders full of women")

I don't think "try not to say" political correctness is intellectually compelling. In fact, I think it's counter-productive to open and honest communications. The implementation of hair-trigger job loss and social stigma is only going to create fear and stifle communications.

I'm not trying to defend toxic speech here. Instead, I'm trying to be clear about comprehension and motivation. Instead of a social context that mindlessly implements pattern-matching hair-trigger sanctions, I'd rather have a support group that understands me and where I'm coming from, so they understand how I would feel about this or that social situation. I'd rather be surrounded by coworkers that know me well enough, they probably won't say something that offends me, or if they happen to do that, I know well enough to talk to them constructively about that.


A bit off-topic, but I hate that there's such a stigma in the American workplace around getting fired. Statistically, not every hire works out, not every job is great, some people and companies are better off without each other.

Rather than engage in this collective delusion that everything is always OK, I wish firing was a more commonplace thing. I also think how it's framed matters a lot: "this isn't working out for either of us" vs. "you aren't welcome here, don't come back".

Additionally, Slava (coffeemug) is right, personnel decisions are the loudest, most unambiguous signals about what's valued in a work culture. Posters on the walls are bullshit - look at who's advancing, who's getting the raises, titles, and what kind of person is getting hired, to know where an organization's priorities really lie.


I believe that the stigma is caused by the very real and very harsh effect of firing on the individual wellbeing and financial safety, given the lack of social 'safety net' in USA and the general lack of savings for not-the-1% of people.

In countries where getting fired doesn't cause immediate financial distress and doesn't remove you from, say, access to medical services for your kids, people don't have such a stigma and actually are willing to simply move on if it isn't working out of if their relationship with teammates matches the bad parts of the original post.


I think you're right.

A bit of personal perspective: I'm a 30 year old, I earn well into six figures/yr, but I still live relatively far below my means. Concretely, this has required making some very tangible lifestyle choices that haven't always been pleasant, including living with roommates in a somewhat bad neighborhood, not buying high-end clothes, etc.

The reason I do this, and it's something which somewhat annoys my long-term girlfriend, is that I absolutely refuse to live paycheck-to-paycheck. I've done that for a while after a failed startup, and it's terrible. It takes a huge psychological toll and the idea that you have to stay at a crappy job, and be afraid every day of being fired, is something I'm working very, very hard to avoid.


> I also think how it's framed matters a lot: "this isn't working out for either of us" vs. "you aren't welcome here, don't come back".

Doesn't really matter how it's framed, when the reality is clear in almost all interactions: the employee is getting the short end of the stick. It's very simple, really: the ratio of employee's salary to his/her total income is very likely to dwarf the ratio of the cost of the employee to the companies total costs. Hence, keeping an employee is very low-risk for the company, while getting fired is very high-risk for an individual. Even if you say "it's not working for us", what you really mean is "I'll slightly improve my profit margins by turning your life on it's head!".


Maybe. What you're saying is a tautological conclusion of the fact that large companies tend to have a lot of employees. None of your employees cost much individually, but if you don't fire anyone, the aggregate cost is a lot.

Besides, if you thought that the point of a company was to provide you with a job and sustenance, you were delusional to begin with. The fact that they're paying you is a side effect of the fact that you're doing things for them that they need. I'm not saying it should be that way, I'm just saying that no one's really hiding that fact.

How this ties in to what the parent is saying: not everyone is fired because they inherently suck. It's possible to not suck and still not be useful to the company. So the stigma here is a bit irrational. I know a company who hired a C-level executive and then very soon realized that they didn't need that person yet, and went through many pains to keep that person onboard on the paperwork. They made it look like they left after a year on their own accord, all in order to not ruin the person's career.


> I don't think "try not to say" political correctness is intellectually compelling.

Except, that's not what the parent was doing. It was a partisan dig, thinly disguised: even worse.


It actually was neither. What I meant was that it is painfully obvious when someone does NOT have a diverse team.


I'm not sure how hiring a diverse team (only) will help. It seems like it will just create two different groups within the same company/workgroup that stick together and don't talk to one another. Sure, the minorities will feel more comfortable, but I think communication and acceptance between all parties will help overcome the "out of place" feeling in a much more enlightened way--a much more enlightened way instead of hiring people for your odd men/women out to hang out with instead of those _other_ people.

Now, if hiring a diverse team forces the old team to start realizing their biases and become more accepting, that a great way to start to overcome those barriers, but I think the understanding is far more important than just having a higher percentage of people of other races.

I discuss my opinion on this in my comment below.


Agreed there's more to it than just hiring the diverse team, but that's a chunk of it.

People work together, and project assignments aren't made to put friends together, but to group the skillsets needed and to help people do the work that interests them.

Of course there's some time spent hanging out in the break room or possibly after-hours, but most socializing (in my experience) happens around work, in groupings that are work-project based.

The small talk is quite different (and honestly, much more interesting!) when you have a more diverse group, automatically.


Another option, if you're a straight cis person, is to go to a gay bar/club. You'll feel different.


Obviously you have to instill the culture of diversity by firing people who do that the moment you overhear them. But what else can we do that might be a little more subtle/less obvious?

Actually, such heavy-handed consequences on a hair trigger might be the opposite of what you want to do. I know it takes some doing to maintain an atmosphere of mutual trust, to the point where people can be direct and honest, and communication even about very complicated issues works the best. I would maintain that a policy of instant firing for pattern-matching "bad behavior" is the very opposite of what you want. (Except in very extreme circumstances.) Instead, when it comes up, how about you gauge how open the different parties are to new information? How about measuring how curious, flexible, and effective they are figuring out where things went wrong and understanding how to avoid the problem in the future?

I propose that an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust that can even encompass issues around race and gender would make for a group that's head and shoulders more effective than most.


> Actually, such heavy-handed consequences on a hair trigger might be the opposite of what you want to do.

There is no plausible context in which saying "did you get that bruise from your boyfriend beating you?" to your colleague is appropriate. If someone does that, you really have no choice but to take a stand.


That could be a matter of context, though. Obviously this was not the situation for the author of the article, but that isn't automatically an inappropriate statement. Let's say the person who said it actually has a friendship with the recipient, and knows that she is in an abusive relationship. The manager/boss/founder may not know any of this, and the hair-trigger "you're fired" response is entirely unwarranted and fairly horrible.

Recently I was having a conversation with a coworker (who is also a friend) where I said something to him that would be pretty bad if we weren't also friends. (We often have a faux-confrontational relationship and hurl fake insults at each other.) Someone who wasn't aware of our friendship overheard, and mentioned it to our boss, who then calmly asked me for an explanation. In the end, our boss agreed that the 3rd party overreacted, but suggested (and I agreed) that I might want to tone it down in situations where others who don't understand could misinterpret my words. He didn't come at me angrily or with an accusation of impropriety, but instead asked a reasonable question in an attempt to understand the context of the situation. Immediately taking the matter to HR or threatening me with being fired would have been counterproductive.


There is no plausible context in which saying "did you get that bruise from your boyfriend beating you?" to your colleague is appropriate.

My wife was once asked by her manager about a bruise on her arm [1], inquiring whether I had something to do with it.

Domestic violence is just as much a hot button today as diversity. Family doctors are expected to spot signs and counsel, for example. While an awkward situation, and one that I wish wasn't pushed on us, I don't find it surprising to hear that this occurred - and it could well be independent of any racial connection.

[1] Believe it or not, the bruise was from table tennis. At competitive levels, a ping-pong ball actually leaves a bruise, and my wife used to be ranked 30th best woman table tennis player in the country.


There is no plausible context in which saying "did you get that bruise from your boyfriend beating you?" to your colleague is appropriate.

Given the context from the op, this was clearly not appropriate. However, it would be false to say there is no conceivable context in a workplace where that combination of words could be. I was dating a martial artist at one point. We met in class. It would've been entirely appropriate for a friend who knew what I was up to lately to ask if a bruise was from my girlfriend beating me.

Additionally, there are other ways to ask about a bruise, even if there's reason to believe the situation is darker.

If someone does that, you really have no choice but to take a stand.

Highly dependent on context. Again, given the context from the op, this was clearly not appropriate. Still, I should hope that people talk openly and try to understand what everything is about when situations like this come up. This is what one would expect to happen in a group that is also an actual community.


I don't understand why such a comment is being seen as racist, or with racist undertones? I don't live in America, so I don't know what passes off as "racism" over there. But here in Africa, that sounds like a perfectly valid thing to ask a colleague if they show up for work with a bruise on their face, and you're concerned. Black, white, or any other race for that matter.


The implied stereotyped story is that all black men are angry and beat their wives/girlfriends. If the two parties knew each other and were good friends, then this could have fit into the, "so horrible, it can't be true so it's funny," style of humor. However, attempting that is taking a big risk and having it fail can be downright offensive.


explaining American Racism is very, very difficult, hilarious, and sad.


There are probably a lot of situations when this kind of comment can be funny. It can be related to a movie, to an IRL event, to something someone said earlier, the list goes on and on.

I'm a big fan of "offensive humor", I love the show "It's always unny in philadelphia", but as always, the joke is a only a joke if the "target" find it funny.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that the woman in the article wasn't victim of racism/harassment, if what she wrote is true she certainly was and I'm happy to know that she is doing better now.


"Actually, such heavy-handed consequences on a hair trigger might be the opposite of what you want to do." - Yes.


It can be something as simple as being in a team of gamers, and not being a gamer yourself. You are naturally going to stick out, and not have as good a time as if you are in a team of people who like cycling, or have families like you do.

Age can be a difference, not obvious as being treated differently, but just having different humuour levels, or doing different things on the weekend can make it harder to bond.


I can see not being a gamer or not liking beer making anyone a social misfit, regardless of race. I'm a white non-gamer and I've uncomfortably sat through so many gaming conversations. They just go on and on and on.


It's true. And for as much flak as "cultural fit" takes in the popular press, everyone's going to be happier if people get along. Look hard at this stuff when you're thinking about joining a company, you'll spend a lot of time there.


I'm a female software engineer. I'm pretty successful, but I have often felt that I don't fit in and I've had to learn to deal with that.

I feel isolated and lonely when there is a group that has a common narrative and set of assumptions that I don't fit. These come out in general statements, assumptions, and/or jokes. Then I have to decide whether to hide my own preferences (lying by omission), get into an argument, or change my preferences. All three options are exhausting and take energy away from actually doing work.

Examples:

* Generalizations about "real haxx0rs": "programmers have side projects", "programmers use [operating system of choice]", "programmers heavily customize their editor", "programmers can't get a girlfriend/are introverted/socially maladapted", "programmers don't care about their clothes", "programmers don't wear a tie", etc.

* Disproportionately caring about one set of users/customers which resembles the team. Example: spending a lot of time talking about/fixing the experience of male users when the vast majority of users are female (and the product is not mature yet); making fun of users and their silly ways when the majority of users are female and/or non-technical and/or young and/or old and/or not from cosmopolitan areas, etc.

* Having to have a conversational style that's significantly more aggressive than what is natural for me in order not to get left out of conversations. I have to be comfortable cutting people off in meetings and jumping on the ends of sentences. I've learned to do it but it's pretty exhausting, and takes energy away from actually doing work. Also, having to jump verbal cues gives me a feeling of insecurity about people not caring what I have to say unless I shove it down their throat, even when that is obviously not the case (because my input is well-received).

As a manager/CEO, here are a few things you can do to help:

* Allow hires to be vetoed on the basis of not having an inclusive worldview, regardless of their professional ability. You can ask "tell me of a time when" type questions to suss that out. Eg, "tell me of a time when you had to convey a complicated technical point across to a non-technical customer (or team)", and watch for denigrating statements. I've given product manager candidates hypothetical products to design for a very particular audience, and anyone who made excessive fun of the intended audience was a no hire.

* Enforce civil conversational standards around the workplace, ie no off-color jokes, talking down to customers, empty generalizations, etc. I don't mean sending around HR videos on what not to say, I mean simple statements like "That's not funny, and offensive" (said flatly), "This customer pays us $X" or "That's not how we're going to improve our conversion rate", etc.

* Encourage open and written discussion of issues, eg via bugs, written code buddies/reviews, etc. Have anyone be able to veto a commit (with good reason), or reopen a bug. Having the bulk of these discussions in writing can help shy/non-confrontational people have their say. Having a focus on getting things done, and getting them done right, vs how exactly they get done can also help people feel more at ease.

* Pay close attention in group discussions to see if anyone is chronically unable to finish their thought without being shut down or talked over by someone else. If their thoughts have merit, be their advocate and calmly say something like "I'd like to hear X finish their thought". Say it as often as necessary. Then encourage other people to say it for you, when necessary.

Aside from all of this, as an early startup employee I've been mistaken for the admin, and as a consultant I've been in situations where people assumed at first sight that I was dumb, not technical at all, had not programmed for long, and more generally was less competent than others. If these prejudices survived one conversation they were generally a sign that the company was pretty fucked up and that much more was wrong with it.


Coffee, I'd be happy to discuss this in detail with you, but I'd prefer not to post on HN as I'd prefer not to be downvoted into oblivion. I will send you a direct email.


Woman here. My college had a 4:1 male:female ratio. I got used to it, I suppose, but, I'm only honestly beginning to understand the difficulties I encountered. If an idea cropped up in my head that made me feel as though I had it rough for being female, I squashed it immediately. The last thing I ever would be willing to do was blame something I could not control. I didn't really see the depression I had, as something connected.

I hopped from computer engineering, to electrical engineering, to get a bachelors in Art. I worked cross discipline between Art and CS, to publish academically. I got my masters in CS. I was accepted as a PhD student in CS, but at that point, I was so isolated that I essentially collapsed from stress, overvaluing my work, and undervaluing my health.

I work as a software developer now, in the interim of 'not really knowing what to do with my life', being that I've seen so many facets of where I can go, what I can do, and once again, haven't got the faintest clue aside from a small amount of intuition to guide me in what to do. That, and an obsession with everything related to technology, and enough technical/logical/mathematical books to build a house with.

I don't know so much if it's that my surroundings changed that tempered my feelings, introspections, and feelings of isolation, or the experiences I've been through. I'd say it's easy, but it isn't. I'd say it's hard, but it isn't. I just sort of imagine everyone in life goes through something similar once in a while, even if on the surface, it looks totally different.


I'm a Mexican single father studying CSE in Ohio. I have can honestly say that I have never experienced any substantial form of racism but fatherhood as an undergraduate certainly brings a certain degree of isolation. I'm not complaining - I've been dealt a sweet hand - but it is a fact.

I just wanted to thank you for writing this, your last couple of sentences really resonated with me. If more people understood that everyone has something to deal with, the world would be a better place.


I feel similarly I think as an asian mechanical engineer among a group of whites. On my first day, I was subjected to an excruciating conversation with one of them telling me about how he saw a movie "about asians." Yeah, I watched a tv show about whites too. Portlandia. Ugh I'm not a race. I'm a rock climber, long distance cyclist who likes to cook indian food, and read Tolstoy in a messy room. I drive a pickup truck that get shitty mileage but I can sleep in the back.


I have been the odd man out on some teams and been part of the collective for others. The third option of diverse teams seems more inclusive on the surface.

EX: Current team has 2 black females one from the US the other from Africa, 2 Indian females from India, 1 Indian male from India, 2 white males born in the US, 2 Asian males one born in the US another born outside. Team lead is american born Asian. We are managed by a black female, who's boss is a white female, who's boss is a black male.

However, in my experience rather than have more people fit in you end up with everyone feeling like they don't fit in for a long period of time.

PS: Ok, there is the default 'can speak English clearly' group. But culture goes beyond language.


Great post but you can use whose instead of who's

"who's" is a contraction of "who is" while "whose" shows possession. Not trying to be a language pedant but my parents are both English instructors and I can't help it!


At least you were not an only Indian on the team who had to bear the stigma of a 'job stealing immigrant'.

I honestly wonder if people in this day and age care about the color of your skin. Isn't that from like the 60's?


I sometimes go to new jobs and hear comments so egregious that at first I laugh because I think they are doing a bit and mocking how bad some other people are. Then it turns out to be in earnest. It's staggering. It's like the took the over-the-top videos from diversity training, and even further exaggerated the behavior from the "don't" section.

As a white male I've never had to deal with bigotry with teeth against me, but I like to think I have enough empathy to at least understand it could be tough to feel different. And frankly, I would assume that many of us in tech might have had some awkward teenage years that could help with that mental exercise. But actually, when I see blatantly offensive stuff, I bet it is due to a lack of imagination on the part of the offender. They truly can not believe that what they are doing would make someone feel bad, that it would make them feel bad if the situation were reversed.


I have, as a white male. We have a captive IT office in south India and when visiting there you really feel like some sort of warlord. [Almost] everyone looks away, tries to act busy, and you are not included in any of the socializing... socializing which you know exists because the most popular place in the office is in the canteen around the tea & coffee machines.

This is not a bitter rant and I have made good friends in that office over the ten years I've been working with them, but to brush with a broad stroke the generalization is accurate. I'm sure it cuts both ways, too, when those folks visit our US offices where there are an ample number of Indians at all levels (my CIO is Indian, along with three of his directs / my peers, for example), but who are homogeneously westernized. They understand the south Indian culture better than anyway, but prejudices are still there.


> [Almost] everyone looks away, tries to act busy, and you are not included in any of the socializing

Indian here, that is probably because they might be intimidated by you. I am assuming that you must be tall.

About socialising, most Indians prefer to talk in their local languages because they are not comfortable talking in English. If you are part of the group they are afraid that they will look foolish in front of you talking in English.


Intimidated, sure, but not necessarily because of height. I am tall, but so are quite a few of our employees (6ft+). English doesn't have anything to do with it for most, either. It's primarily the "big powerful boss from far away" syndrome where a strong enough bond hasn't been forged such that everyone feels a sense of sameness, at least professionally. This is really tough to build, though, in a culture where job hopping is expected, inflation has been through the roof, and employees generally hold very little loyalty for their employers.


Learn some local words, I dont know where your office is located but different states have different languages.

Indian guys specially love to talk about Indian politics.

If you really want to connect with your Indian colleagues, ask some personal questions about their life, friends, siblings.

Americans usually don't like to intrude into anyone's personal life but we Indians have no such inhibitions.


You likely had god-like status there. If you happened to go there with a US based Indian cohort who was higher up the chain than you were, and they did not know that, the odds are good that they would ask you to make decisions instead of him/her.

Its a really odd thing. Self inflicted whatever... there must be a scientific name for such behavior.


> I honestly wonder if people in this day and age care about the color of your skin.

Yes, some people do. We have a cosmopolitan city of 8mm+ who make it a public policy of stopping and frisking black and hispanic males. Let's not even get started on the US president being 1/2 black and the overt and covert racism that ensued following his election.


If you're asking whether racism still exists based on skin color - yes it most certainly does.


A lot of it has to do with two generations of well meaning social engineering in our schools and workplaces to constantly acknowledge and celebrate diversity. But doing this entails never forgetting and never really feeling truly comfortable.

Every time there's a team member from some under-represented group, there is a tendency to think of it as living in some kind of "diverse workplace" stock photo instead of just getting stuff done.


Social engineering doesn't create the discomfort, it's intrinsic.

I grew up in northern Virginia in the early 1990's. The town, which is quite cosmopolitan today, was almost totally white and rather conservative at the time. The "social engineering" and relative liberalism of northern Virginia wouldn't arrive for several years yet. I distinctly remember one day in first or second grade being asked to draw a picture of my family. I didn't color in the faces because I didn't want to use the brown crayon for that when everyone else was using the cream-colored crayon. Nobody told me that brown was bad or anything silly like that--it was just obvious even as a small child that looking different than the people around you was significant.


This is indeed sad. "Including" different people by constantly paying attention to their differences does not look productive to me.

See, e.g. green-eyed developers (a smaller minority in the world than many others) aren't celebrated; nobody cares what the color of your eyes is. If you paid attention to it, you'd get blank stares from colleagues: "what?"

When this begins to apply to people of different ethnic origins, we will have achieved equality.


I agree completely. I hear "celebrate diversity" all the time, but when you want to get to know someone, you usually try to find things in common. Commonality is just as important.


As a white male, I have my own related experience to share: I'm the only foreigner on my team that is otherwise completely Chinese (in China, so that makes sense); my whole lab has maybe a handful of foreigners, who, even though not homogeneous in the least, are at least bound together by our foreign-ness.

We generally feel a lack of belonging; some of us try to fit in and are successful at it, but some of us just live with it. Our management team really does try to help out, but there is also some pressure to participate in lab-wide activities that leads to tension (e.g. no, I don't really want to sing, dance at the gala this year). While working, side conversations are often in Chinese (I speak Chinese better than most of us, but still not enough to participate very well), and there are all sorts of comical culture shock experiences even after being here for 7 years. And really, what can be expected when the workplace is 90%+ one way? I think our lab handles it as best as it can.

Here is the twist: there is no pressure to assimilate because well, I could never be Chinese. But back in the states (or even Europe), I don't feel like I really fit in either despite matching the ethnic and gender standard. There is not much to match me to my colleagues, and there is a lot of pressure to assimilate since at first glance, I should be able to.


I can relate. I'm one of three non-Chinese employees in a Chinese-owned company in California. Like your office, my coworkers converse predominantly in Chinese. I take no offense to this whatsoever, and in fact have begun taking Mandarin courses so I can better understand my coworkers.

I'll admit there is a small part of me that gets slightly irritated every time we go through a hiring cycle and everyone who shows up for the interviews is Mandarin speaking Chinese-- because it cant be that only Chinese people are applying for these jobs; the odds don't favor it.

That said, I love my job, I get along with everyone at work, and actually feel like its a great opportunity to learn about another culture up close without having to travel across the world like the parent poster.

I guess the point is anyone (white, black, asian, etc.) can be culturally isolated in any country or company. Some people have an easier time assimilating, and other still don't ever feel the need to assimilate.

It makes me wonder if there is something unique about "white" culture that causes "others" to feel more isolated than when the reverse scenario is true. I've never worked for a man, and have never worked for a white guy, yet I'm a white guy myself. Beyond the slight irritation i mentioned above about hiring, its never bother me a bit.


But with this case, you have a large linguistic barrier that goes both ways. The experience is only partially simulated compared the article author's experience, because she did not have any linguistic barriers.

I experienced the 1st generation chinese/russian linguistic barrier myself too. I think the big reason why is because there is an engineer shortage, or science grad student 'shortage', so many candidates are going to come from their social networks, which are probably mostly russian or chinese. They themselves don't feel comfortable with the external language and culture, so they associate with people they feel more comfortable speaking with and it self perpetuates. It only goes away when their children are born in the next generation, or they are isolated enough that they are forced to integrate.


>I'll admit there is a small part of me that gets slightly irritated every time we go through a hiring cycle and everyone who shows up for the interviews is Mandarin speaking Chinese

It depends, some of those firms offer comparatively low salaries to Americans and can positively exploit their own people (same ethnicity as company founders).

So at least for some companies with HQs in CN or TW, it's not surprising that you'd see few Americans --of those you see some are resurrecting their careers --so they'll take the cut.


Conversely, you may simply feel "isolated" all the time and not realize it.

The author of this article describes a sense of collectivism when she moved to Oakland. For whatever reason, she views black people as more "like her" than others and enjoys the resulting tribalist feelings. Take that away and she feels something is missing.

I too am the odd man out - obvious foreigner in India. I do not get to enjoy feelings of tribalism. But I don't feel different than in the us - stick me in a room full of lower middle class Americans and I'm still not enjoying any particular sense of belonging. They aren't "my people", they are just people. I never get to enjoy these positive feelings of tribalism.


I think this is really interesting: a lack of pressure to assimilate or conform because you never could belong anyway. Do you think this affects your ability to move forward in the company, if that's something you want?

Even though you don't feel you fit in in the US, do you ever feel relief at just not getting attention for being different?


I only care about my research and not climbing the ladder. My hope is that my research will be great enough that I won't have to conform to climb the ladder, but that is a gamble.

> Even though you don't feel you fit in in the US, do you ever feel relief at just not getting attention for being different?

I've never really had that feeling before; I never get into the situation where I feel like I'm with "my own people."


I don't necessarily feel I'm with my "own people" when I go to France or Spain, but the relief I felt on leaving Egypt was palpable. I was either an oddity or a target everywhere I traveled in Egypt (not a target for harassment, really, but a walking wallet). I've had experiences with Vietnamese kids exclaiming at how comically pale I am. Can't go grocery shopping without getting noticed. No one notices me in Europe.

Good luck with the research gamble from someone like-minded.


Yet another white, male engineer here. I agree with the "what am I supposed to do about it" responses. I don't think I'm doing anything exclusionary (my team does have a lot of non-whites, mostly Indian and Chinese). The guy she uses as the main example - the teammate who made the domestic abuse "jokes" - clearly should be out on his ass with a lawsuit. I think we can all agree with that. But what exactly do you want the other 99% of us who just happen to have been born into the majority to do?

One theme from the article that bothered me:

>diversity lightning struck: I was a black woman reporting to another black woman in a technical role. Moreover, our team was predominantly black.

This sounds like she's most comfortable working only with black people - in which case, the pleas for all-inclusive diversity sound a bit hollow...


> This sounds like she's most comfortable working only with black people - in which case, the pleas for all-inclusive diversity sound a bit hollow...

Let's apply the Principle of Charity here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity). The words you quoted don't say that, and it's easy to find plausible ways of reading them that don't mean that. Indeed, when you say that something "sounds like" X, it's you who are adding X, not the author. Choosing that interpretation in order to dismiss it seems unnecessary, and likely to polarize the responses. (I mention the latter because of how unpolarized and thoughtful the thread has been—edit: or had been.)


Black is pretty clearly what she means, given her mention of Oakland.

   I’ve lived several places in the Bay Area: San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, 
   San Bruno. All places I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong. I walked around 
   and saw scant few other black women.
The peninsula and south bay are very diverse with the exception of black people. eg san mateo county is 63% white (notably less than the fraction of the US as a whole), 25% asian, and 25% latino. [1] Santa Clara is similar [2].

Also, from her article, the sole time she mentions being happy at work is this:

   our team was predominantly black. I could relate to my teammates without 
   having to conform. I didn’t have to be anything different than who I was and 
   I flourished there. I was mostly happy at work [...]
Simply put, she wishes to be around black people and work with black people. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I don't see how you didn't see that in her writing.

[1] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06081.html

[2] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/06085.html


I'm personally racially mixed and feel comfortable many different races but can understand her feeling of Oakland. I personally can't speak for Sunnyvale, Santa Clara or San Bruno but do have personal experiences in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Oakland has a more comfortable feeling while in the city. Oakland feels welcoming more so than the other cities to me personally.


From my experience, if a white person is around lots of people of color, they're likely to be more welcoming and inclusive of people of color.

So not only could the woman in the story be more comfortable because there are more black people, but also other races who are typically more welcoming


I think that's true -- but she didn't seem to like nyc either, and I think you'll have a tough time finding people not comfortable with black folks in nyc. They're your neighbors, friends, and coworkers...


I mean you say that, but nyc has one of the toughest stop and frisk policies which seem to largely target black men. I think we are talking about a different kind of comfortable.

I believe in NYC the type of comfort is more forced and the wage gap is probably much larger. It's more of a "deal with it because I have to" and being comfortable with black folks because it's easiest, not because they see black people as equals. My suspicion is mostly because of the support NYC'ers seemingly have of elected officials that espouse "zero tolerance" and "stop-frisk" policies.

I'm speculating quite a bit here, it would be nice to here if my theory matches anyone’s real world experiences with both places.


I came to a similar conclusion to GeneralMayhem.

She talks about not fitting in until she reaches Oakland and the issue of racism.

A huge portion of the article is talking about her not wanting to do an activity that the rest of the team does (e.g. video gaming or drinking beer) I do not feel as though these activities are specifically 'white male engineer' activities. If the team was predominantly black, and these activities still being participated in would she have still felt pressured to attend? I assume she would.


> I do not feel as though these activities are specifically 'white male engineer' activities.

If someone says they're uncomfortable they're uncomfortable. Even with black teammates, as a woman she might still feel those activities are not her usual thing to do.


I may have phrased it a little stronger than I meant to, but I stand by the crux of what I said, which is that a room full of black people isn't diversity any more than a room full of white people is.


I stand by the crux of what I said...

And what you wrote very much isn't what the author wrote.

That's the point.


GeneralMayhem, I completely agree with you that an all black team is no more diverse than an all white team. Some might make the argument that there could be benefits to having a homogeneous team of an underrepresented group if it eliminates the plight the author went through, but I think we'd be hard pressed to find people who believe the long term solution to the issues in tech are separate racially homogeneous teams. But either way a homogeneous black team and a homogeneous white team are still both non-diverse teams.

That said, reading through the article I don't see the author ever claiming that she wants the industry to have predominantly black teams, or that predominantly black teams are the pinnacle of diversity as you suggest. In fact what I was so impressed by how little opinion or suggestion she provided throughout the entire article. For the most part, simply a listing of events that occurred through her career and the impact it had on her.

Regarding the specific quote mentioned in the great-grandparent comment: "When I transferred to my second team there, Desktop Support, diversity lightning struck: I was a black woman reporting to another black woman in a technical role."

Maybe I'm misreading it, but I interpreted it as follows: The expression "lightning struck" generally means that a rare event occurred (I didn't see much listing of it on google, but I've heard the expression many times. Maybe it's a regional thing?). The rare event in this case was, "a black woman reporting to a black woman in a technical role." And I think most people working in tech would pretty much agree this is rare (I don't think I've ever seen it).

And I believe excerpting the next sentence without the two that follows it is somewhat removing the sentence from its context. Here I include all three - she writes: "Moreover, our team was predominantly black. I could relate to my teammates without having to conform. I didn’t have to be anything different than who I was and I flourished there."

My take here is that being secure in an environment where she could relax, she didn't have to spend significant mental cycles trying to conform to other's expectations of her, and she could just be herself and be accepted - as a result she "flourished". Whether that is just personally or also professionally isn't explicitly stated.

Finally quoting another comment you made below >True, but mostly what I meant was that it's funny that she refers to a room full of black people as a utopia of diversity, when it's really just that she happens to be in the majority there.

As far as I could see the author never states the idea of a team of predominantly black people being a utopia or ideal of diversity. I believe this might be an incorrect interpretation of what was written. She does say how wonderful it is to work in an environment where you are accepted for who you are (which she found on that team discussed above), not that a person needs a homogeneous team to be accepted. To support this, near the end she sates what she would like to see in an ideal case "Ideally I’d like to work in a less homogeneous environment where I don’t feel so different." Ie. less homogeneity. However, even that, she doesn't ask of the industry. She doesn't ask for there to be more black people in tech; her simple request, the final sentence of her essay is "My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted." The only change she is asking for is that Tech allow people who are different to feel accepted for who they are. An incredibly modest but valuable human request.

In general I try to avoid writing comments quoting other people like this because no matter how well meaning you may be, when read on the internet it often comes across as sniping. So I'll leave things there, as I do genuinely appreciate this discussion, and hopefully this comment came across as a positive discussion as I intended.

My goal was just to point out that we should be cautious and ensure that in discussions we separate what the author is saying from our interpretation of their intent. It's a challenging task to do in any reading.


One thing I would point out though is that her statement that she didn't have to conform was based on working on a predominantly black team. So, she's saying that due to the visible conformity she no longer felt the need to conform in other social aspects, like games and beer? If that is the case then she will never feel comfortable in a diverse team. A true diverse team will never have enough similarity, physical or social, for her to feel comfortable and she'll alwasy feel the pressure to conform.


That is really cool, I've never heard of the Principle of Charity, I usually said it was just assuming the best of people. I like that quite a bit.


I now have a (widely-recognized) name for this concept. My profuse thanks.


predominantly != only


> This sounds like she's most comfortable working only with black people - in which case, the pleas for all-inclusive diversity sound a bit hollow...

Maybe! But your level of comfort around people who are like you doesn't dictate your ability to be inclusive. It just shows how important diversity is to help us understand why we may be uncomfortable in these scenarios and how to address it.


True, but mostly what I meant was that it's funny that she refers to a room full of black people as a utopia of diversity, when it's really just that she happens to be in the majority there.


Which may be the only time, in our industry that has a white supremacy problem, in which she feels her knowledge and abilities are judged on their merits rather than on how well she conforms or how well she plays the game of being accepted by white folks.

She talked quite a bit about that in the article; I believe she was clear, if you aren't taking single sentences or even paragraphs out of context. I believe she is saying that in a team that at least somewhat shares her race and gender, she can expect her race and gender to be invisible and not part of the equation. Whereas, in a team where she is the only black woman on the team, she expects other things to determine her fate (based on prior experience in similar situations), and that causes her distress (as it would for anyone).

Being in the majority allows one to be ignorant of problems of diversity. She hasn't said she needs to be in the majority to be happy. What she has said, I believe, is that she needs to not have to think about blending in in order to be happy; and a massive preponderance of white males in the workplace does not allow her that freedom, because of the direct and indirect actions of some white males.


"Being in the majority allows one to be ignorant of problems of diversity..."

Your point is expressed very well.

Made me think about how, though I have been the sole or one-of-a-few white guy(s) in work situations and maybe at times times taken out of my comfort zone. But not to the extent that the author describes. I cant imagine dealing with what she describes.

Saying it is the same thing is disingenuous or worse.


> she refers to a room full of black people as a utopia of diversity

I gave you the benefit of the doubt earlier, but this is outright distortion.


I understand what you meant. That the phrase 'diversity lightning struck' seemed to imply a situation with a diverse workplace that was also good to work in. Whereas the rest of the sentence implied that the workplace was black rather than 'diverse'.

I don't think the 'diversity lightning struck' phrase is clear. So without clarification from the author we should probably skip over it rather than analyse it deeply and concentrate on the other bits that are clear.

The general theme of the article is about her experience in a minority (of one) so silly to focus in on a comment about her working as a majority.


You started with asking what you can do to help, then went on to discount her experience as an outlier despite her clearly saying it wasn't, and then finished more or less by implying that _she's_ racist.

So if you're asking what you should do, the answer is: the exact opposite of whatever you're doing now.


So if you're asking what you should do, the answer is: the exact opposite of whatever you're doing now.

Reversed stupidity isn't intelligence. If mistakes are being made because of clueless action, then having them "do the opposite" is still going result in clueless actions. The proper antidote is honest and open communication.

The key takeaway is that her environments didn't foster this communication. I doubt that the majority of the environments she was in had enough capacity for self-awareness and introspection to make such a thing easy and apparent. I would also posit, that the very mechanical pattern-matching way we currently implement "political correctness" is counterproductive in this way. I wonder if the fear around issues of race and group inclusiveness didn't drive the HR response she described.

Political correctness shouldn't be about enforcing superficial behavior. It should be about the epistemic health of a group. It should be about how well a group can discover and absorb cultural issues is isn't yet aware of.


It isn't cool to point the racism finger anywhere, but how would you describe that? If I was to say that I was uncomfortable working in a group of opposite gendered difference raced folks who were already a clique before I joined in, then said it was hard to fake being a part of that group and how much stress that put on me, and how the industry needs to change to include everyone, diversity. In the same story I talk about how great it was when I joined a same raced same gendered group and how that was diversity, would you not say I had a warped sense of what diversity means?

There is no definition for a diverse group, but her one sample isn't diverse. Google searched "Picture of Diverse People" http://m.c.lnkd.licdn.com/mpr/mpr/p/7/005/056/19e/34082f9.jp...


I think it wasn't what the group was and more what it wasn't: she no longer had to deal with having to laugh along with sexist and racist jokes, and all the rest of the issues she wrote about in the post. That's how I interpreted it anyway.


If she had phrased it in a way that acknowledged that being in the majority was more comfortable, I would have had no problem with it. What bothered me was that she referred to the situation of being with a bunch of people like her as "diversity lightning" and similar. No, she didn't have to worry about how to conform, but that's because she was already naturally conformant. While possible, I somehow doubt that the black majority at that company spends a whole ton of time making sure that the non-blacks don't feel uncomfortable in the way that she did elsewhere.

The reality is that yes, people are going to feel more comfortable with people who are like them. I don't see that changing any time soon, and I don't fault her for that feeling of relief. But it's disingenuous at best to say "there need to be more black people for me to identify with" is the solution, or even a solution, for how to deal with diversity. The average group of 10 Americans will have one black person and six non-Latino whites. It's understandable for that situation to make you uncomfortable, just as I'd probably be at least mildly uncomfortable on a team with six blacks, a Chinese person, an Indian, and a Hispanic. I'm open to suggestions to make it easier, but if the simple state of being in a minority is all it takes, I really don't know what to do.


"I could relate to my teammates without having to conform. I didn’t have to be anything different than who I was and I flourished there."

No, she wasn't "naturally conformant", saying she was is a bit of racism on your part.

In the very next paragraph:

"After The Home Depot, I took a position at a lottery/parimutuel company. I returned to being the only black woman, but the team there wasn’t very close knit so everybody did their own thing, did their job, and went home."

It makes it clear that the issue is not a lack of racial homogeneity, but racism, especially when combined with a cliquish work environment.

With the above quote, the author directly refutes your claim that "the simple state of being in a minority is all it takes".

The author does not say "there need to be more black people for me to identify with", but consistently says "My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted."


If you do any reading on race and diversity, you'll come across the idea of racism as a systemic thing -- racism not as single instances of discrimination based, but a recurring pattern. This is why it's very hard to insult a white person with a racial slur. It's why 'girls who code' groups are common, but male-only versions feel pretty gross. It's why, in the context of our industry, a predominantly black dev team is really unusally diverse.

(It's also a bit weird that people keep calling that example 'non-diverse', when entirely-white groups of developers are still the norm. Even a predominantly white group -- but with some people of colour -- is unusually diverse in this field, sadly.)


People are calling that example 'non-diverse' because they are using the dictionary definition of diversity: "the state of being diverse; variety" or "an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities".

By this definition, a team of white, south asian and east asian people is diverse. A team of black Americans is not.

You seem to be using some alternate definition - I'm guessing diversity for you means "sufficient numbers of non-Asian minorities", but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.


Sure!

Let's take the immediately preceding example, where the author had a black woman as a supervisor. The author describes this as 'diversity lightning'. If you interpret this narrowly, this makes absolutely no sense: there's no way in which a single person can be considered diverse. On the other hand, if you think about it at an environmental or company level, things look different.

Suppose we take a random US tech company's employees and dump them in a vase. (Let's ignore the ethical issues with this for a moment.) At this point, we'd expect the odds of a random draw to reflect the tech industry's demographics, which is to say, predominantly white and asian males. If you draw this 'predominantly black' development team from the vase, though, you need to update your priors. You probably shouldn't calculate your posterior as 'everyone at this company is black' -- but you'd still probably guess that you're looking at a tech company where there are more black people and women than average. Which is to say, you'd expect that the company as a whole was more diverse.

I think this second reading is a lot more charitable to the author. I also think it's the more interesting reading; the demographic representation in a small group is subject to a huge amount of randomness, but the demographics of a entire organization are more telling, and can reveal more interesting things about policy and bias. As a community, software people are normally biased toward systems-level thinking; it's weird to me that in this particular issue people have this laser-focus on small groups and tokenism.


That is a more interesting interpretation. I think it's more of a steel man [1] than a charitable interpretation, but that's absolutely worth bringing up.

[1] http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Steel_man - basically the opposite of a straw man.


> But what exactly do you want the other 99% of us who just happen to have been born into the majority to do?

Make an effort to include every member of your team in your activities. It's Burkeian "omission of good" rather than "commission of evil". Let's assume that you're perfectly non-exclusionary. Fine. What are you doing to be inclusionary?

You know what stuck out to me? This line:

> I remember asking if we could do other outings that didn’t include beer and getting voted down.

I know that feel, and I'm neither black nor female.


Are these work sponsored outings or small non-work sponsored groups of people hanging out? Work-sponsored should attempt to round-robin enough to be maximally inclusive. Non-work sponsored gatherings are what they are -- I used to do Thursday night drinks at a bar near with coworkers; anyone was welcome but we weren't going to go get bubble tea instead just because someone didn't drink.


Right. That's how it works. You kick some people to the curb because their preferences are just not important enough to you.

Which is more important to you? Making a coworker feel included in your social gathering or drinking the right drink because it was Thursday?

Or more succinctly: is your tradition more important, or is your coworker more important?

Yes, your coworker should also try to fit in and properly conform to the standards your clique sets, and if it's so impossible for you to hang out together because there's absolutely no activity you have in common, then I wouldn't be surprised if they left the company.

You could have gone and gotten bubble tea on Tuesday instead, for instance.


Oh, that's so ridiculous. It's not tradition versus inclusion of a coworker. They are completely different environments. Some people really enjoy getting that alcohol buzz after a stressful day at work. Tradition would be like only going to a specific bar that one coworker can't go to or something. You aren't comparing apples to oranges. You are expecting people to change their personal habits because another coworker may not approve of them. That is a dangerous slope to begin down....

Its outside of work. Your own convictions and interests should dictate what you do outside of work. There are more differences between drinking beer at a bar and drinking non alcoholic drinks at a starbucks. People are going to enjoy them separately and unfortunately, for many people, the activities are not interchangeable. I personally don't drink, but I would never suggest to co-workers that they change their outside of work habits because I don't want to go to a bar.

It's clearly different if its a work sponsored event.


> You are expecting people to change their personal habits because another coworker may not approve of them.

I like that you put the word "approve" into my mouth. It's an excellent straw man technique and pretty underhanded. Well done. Full marks for rhetorical technique.

> I personally don't drink, but I would never suggest to co-workers that they change their outside of work habits because I don't want to go to a bar.

And yet, that's not what's happening.

The situation at hand is that there exists a group of people who like to do Activity A. Now a new person, Person P, joins the group who does not like doing Activity A.

Now, Person P has a choice. They can either leave the group or they can force themselves to do Activity A.

> It's clearly different if its a work sponsored event.

The thing that you're all missing is that the fact that it's in a workplace is completely irrelevant.

Let's assume Activity A is "going to a fellowship meeting on Friday nights". Would an atheist feel included if everyone simply said, "Oh, you don't want to? Guess we're leaving you behind, then." Or worse, if they said, "Oh, you don't want to? But you'll really like it! We demand you come along and do something you won't enjoy!"

"Can't we just go and play board games or something?" "No, fellowship is far more important! That's what we do on Friday nights."


I appreciate your approval of rhetorical technique.

In response, I would like to criticize yours. Person P did not join a "Going out to bar" group. They entered into an at-will employment agreement with a business entity. Person P should be neither obliged to join said "Going out to bar" group, nor should they expect that group to change their activity that everyone in the group enjoys (to a less enjoyable activity) simply to accommodate a new co-worker.

In your example, if my co-workers were religious and were talking about an event they were attending outside of work, there is no issue. I don't understand why you think your co-workers have some contractual duty to be inclusive in their personal lives. They might invite me because they personally enjoy working with me and want to extend our working relationship to a more casual, friendship environment, but I am under no contractual or employment obligation to go, therefore there is no duty by the company (or its employees, which are just extensions of the company in a work environment) to specifically be all inclusive.

The point is people are drawn to an activity for a certain reason. No group is going to take nicely to someone coming in and getting angry when they (where they could be 5-6 people) don't change their outside of work behavior to accommodate a single person.


> contractual duty

If you honestly can't engage with me without putting words in my mouth, I really don't see the point in taking you seriously.


You seem to be implying that there is some necessary reason to try to include co-workers in outside of work, non-work related, personal activities. That is why it appears that you are describing some contractual duty requiring co-workers to engage in personal social events.

Do you have a better word for this required need (than duty) that you say exists?

(By the way, the definition of duty: something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation. That is what I feel you are describing when you say people are required by necessity to include their co-workers. Maybe you should work on your communication skills instead of refusing to acknowledge your claim (a claim that implied employers have a right to police the personal, social events of their employees) was baseless and had no merit at all.)


This is incredible. I come back after cooling down to see whether or not you responded and I see that you've managed to add yet another layer of straw man. This time creating a employer-employee relationship out of thin air when the subject of discussion was about coworkers. I didn't even SAY anything last time!

I'll certainly concede I could have communicated better; that's basically always true anyways because NOT PERFECT. But the idea that I could have gotten through to you, who can't seem to reply without figuring out a way to twist what I've said, is ridiculous.


At root, you labor under the delusion your coworkers have an obligation to entertain you. They have no such obligation -- legal, moral, or practical.

Grow up, entertain yourself; participate in events if you enjoy them, or if not, suggest events you'll enjoy. But don't whine if they don't share your idea of fun and hence decline.

If you live in a reasonably sized city, you can find people into doing damn near whatever floats your boat.

This is really basic social skills.


> "You are expecting people to change their personal habits because another coworker may not approve of them."

I couldn't agree with you more here. I have been labeled MANY times as in the "after hours drinking group" by people that "don't drink" and I really not sure why I would care.

I don't talk about how people are in the "World of Warcraft group" and since I don't play world of warcraft you should come to the bar! ;) But really, those wow'ers should. It's fun.


Even a work-sponsored event can't please everybody. And face it, Most people like to go to a bar. So that's a reasonable choice when planning a work outing.

I don't like bars; its loud and crowded and there's absolutely nothing I want to do there. But can't please everybody.


Exactly -- their preferences aren't important to me. It's not my job to be your social life. I'm busy -- I have a more than full time job, hobbies, an SO, friends, and an awesome dog. I've got 2-3 nights per month to hang out with work people, and I use them doing something I enjoy.

See how all those statements were about me? That's because this is about my free time. And you, and all my coworkers for that matter, have no claim on it.


> I've got 2-3 nights per month to hang out with work people, and I use them doing something I enjoy.

That's super-great for you, but what if work people don't want to do something that you enjoy? Lemme guess: you won't hang out with them, right? Because that'd be a waste of your time.

Fun fact: that's the definition of you are not being included. But you didn't want to be invited to their uncool party anyways, right?

> And you, and all my coworkers for that matter, have no claim on it.

Why do you even bother hanging out with your coworkers at all? Like, what's in it for you? Are they just extra bodies filling in the space for doing something you enjoy?


   That's super-great for you, but what if work people don't want to do 
   something that you enjoy? Lemme guess: you won't hang out with them, right? 
   Because that'd be a waste of your time.

Yes, exactly! I hang out with them when we do stuff together I enjoy; when they don't I decline. eg I find baseball boring, so when invited I say thanks but no thanks.

It's like being an adult with a life. This is clearly upsetting to you for some strange reason.


Pretty sure she described enjoying a situation where she was still in a minority, so your assumption is wrong which would mean your conclusion is unsupported by your claims.

I'd say it's more interesting that when you are in the majority and similar to those with power, you don't deal with certain bullshit and it's easier to relax and get shit done.

That sounds a bit like all the other white engineers that aren't really focused on cultural sensitivities because they are (can be) focused on other things.


There is a problem in the author's views, but its not what you pointed out.

On one hand the author feels she loses her cultural identity by trying to mingle with a while group. On the other she advocates diversity. And yes, she also feels comfortable when working in a predominantly black team.

I think the solution that she forgets to mention is having people of all groups equally represented (most or less) in any field. With that happening, I can see how nobody would feel like an outsider, and get to preserve their cultural prefernces and tastes, along with mingling with other cultures and races.

It doesn't have to be a black team, a white team and a brown team. All that is needed is people of all races in the workplace with diverse teams. That will balance things out.

As for "What can you do as a white person other than not being a racist and voicing your prejudices openly" .. I don't think there's much you can do. I guess those of you in recruiting positions can encourage people from all backgrounds to come up. Not saying give special treatment to minorities, but generally try to keep bias away from recruitment procedures. Same applies to promotions, relocations and the like.


>>But what exactly do you want the other 99% of us who just happen to have been born into the majority to do?

Just be normal. Is that really so difficult to be?

All people ever want is to work around normal people. I'm not sure why that is a impossible expectation to have. People's skin color, ethnicity, religion, language, nationality, religion or whatever is the person's private business. Just being fair to their performance on the job can solve all the issues.

>>This sounds like she's most comfortable working only with black people

If you treat people badly over and over, over years. And then you consider your birth right to screw their careers and life. And all the person at the other end wants to protect themselves from this, I don't see what's so wrong with it.

What should she do otherwise? If all your efforts to succeed with just efforts fail, Its perfectly fine to act in your best interest.


"Just be normal. Is that really so difficult to be?"

No, she doesn't like extroverts, and saying that is socially unacceptable, so she's going all "black vs white" instead.

Look at the comments along the lines of

"everybody did their own thing, did their job, and went home." (I love that kind of working environment, its unfortunately rare to have a professional working environment)

"I remember asking if we could do other outings that didn’t include beer and getting voted down." (despite not being a black woman, I feel exactly the same way as she does WRT this topic, so I suspect her and I would get along great, other than the whole we're both apparently introverts so getting along great would mean sitting silently, very happily, with each other)

There is an anecdotal aspect to her argument. As a white dude I've met and worked with a lot of really weird white dudes over the decades, and thats apparently ok. She met ONE weird white dude, ONE!, and that's a big problem solely because she's a black woman. I'm not impressed. I'm not saying weirdos are good or correct or shouldn't be punished, but I am saying that trying to portray weirdos as as "a black women problem" is extremely inaccurate. They are a PITA for us all, or there exist PITA weirdos that affect every ethnic or social group. And to be honest, management and HR are utterly ineffective at weeding out weirdos regardless if the people offended are white dudes or black women, which is fairness, in a way.

I'd argue that dealing with weirdos is an adult social skill. So a long time ago I sat next to a guy with a severe temper problem who would scream at me occasionally, usually just nonsense although sometimes I admit I'd provoke him a bit. Well, it was not exactly paradise, but I'm a big boy so its "OK". It did freak out people who weren't as tough as I was, which I found amusing (You're the one who's freaked out while I'm the one sitting next to him?) The ideal social interaction system might be all candy and balloons and girl scout songs all the time but adults can and should handle something a bit worse, a bit more realistic. Toughen up, basically. She is apparently under the mistaken impression that no weirdos ever bug white dudes magically because we're the oppressor, and that is quite inaccurate.


Honestly I'm not even sure where to start with this. If this is truly your attitude you are apart of the problem. Everyone in the world isn't as "tough" as you are. You may enjoy working in that type of environment but that doesn't mean other people should. Yes there is absolutely a part of being adult that means dealing with uncomfortable people or situations but that should be far from the norm. And encouraging people to just toughen up is the exact wrong response to these situations.

Also the author doesn't describe one "weird" guy as you suggest. She describes an individual who was far and beyond offensive. Whatever his reasons that's not appropriate in every day life much less in the workplace.

Being white gives you the ability to brush this off as not your problem, or not that unusual but for someone like the author who is doubly on the outskirts the fact that a situation like that isn't addressed promptly and decisively sends the message that she isn't a valued part of the team. If you value that guys right to be overtly offensive and racist more than her right to be offended by it you are creating a culture that implicitly doesn't value a certain segment. In this case both blacks and women


> "Also the author doesn't describe one "weird" guy as you suggest. She describes an individual "

Just as the person you replied to said... it's one person who is a FAR outlier example. So you agree she described one person.

> "Being white gives you the ability to brush this off as not your problem"

That's just reversing racism. No skin color of any kind is an automatic anything. There are trends but being "white" is not a panacea for all life situations.

> "If you value that guys right to be overtly offensive and racist"

I'll just quote the original comment.. " I'm not saying weirdos are good or correct or shouldn't be punished, but I am saying that trying to portray weirdos as as "a black women problem" is extremely inaccurate."


The majority of people are normal, by definition. Ask a statistician.


>All people ever want is to work around normal people.

That's not the impression I got from the post. She clearly feels that the established "normal" (setting aside the obvious asshole outliers) isn't making her feel welcome. Just being the only black woman is apparently enough to do that, because of her fear that there might be a problem, even if it hasn't materialized. The easy response is to tell her that she needs to get over it and stop inventing problems where nobody is actually out to get her, but there are enough stories like hers that there's probably more to it.


The guy she uses as the main example - the teammate who made the domestic abuse "jokes" - clearly should be out on his ass with a lawsuit. I think we can all agree with that. But what exactly do you want the other 99% of us who just happen to have been born into the majority to do?

Create an atmosphere where people can talk about things that make them uncomfortable. Granted, much of the language and distorted dogma around race and gender issues has made this difficult. It's anti-intellectual claptrap to label things like objectification and stereotyping as things that are like "sin." Those are epiphenomena of human social information processing. They are things to be aware of, not things to shame people with.

The good news in that, is that the same things one does to foster honest and direct communication around technical issues are the same things one does to foster honest and direct communication around social issues. The bad news in this, is that to accomplish that, you are going to have to get past a lot of the BS and recrimination that acts as a barrier. (For the record, I think the way "political correctness" is currently implemented doesn't help on the whole.)

This sounds like she's most comfortable working only with black people - in which case, the pleas for all-inclusive diversity sound a bit hollow...

I don't think it's that she only wants to hang out with black people. It's that she wishes she felt as comfortable around tech coworkers as she does in predominantly black settings. Is it possible that she's doing things that exacerbate her feelings? Sure. Again, that's something to be cured with honest and direct communication.

If we all rationally applied what we now know about group psychology, we should anticipate many of the events and situations she described happening. Also, if the entire group of coworkers were anticipating and applying such knowledge, I would posit things would go differently. Unfortunately, the fear and social coercion around the current version of "political correctness" work against this and instead produce an atmosphere of fear and tiptoeing around hair-triggers for fear of being tarred with labels synonymous with villainy. Could you imagine such an atmosphere around implementing continuous integration, or effective testing, or coding practices?

Instead, encountering different cultures/sub-cultures should be considered an instance of encountering "known unknowns." One should go into the situation with a stance of discovery. That is what "cultural sensitivity" should really mean, not this tiptoeing/gotcha game BS that we play.

EDIT: A series of questions for 3rd party readers: Is your workplace about "open and honest motivated problem solving" in the social dimension? Or is it more like "tiptoeing around gotchas?" Or is it a combination of the two concerning different social issues? What does it mean?


>Create an atmosphere where people can talk about things that make them uncomfortable.

Okay, great, but what does that mean? If something I do is making someone I work with uncomfortable, I'm open to hearing it, but it would hardly help the situation to go around asking if people feel comfortable. Maybe if I were a manager, I could bring up such concerns in a one-on-one meeting, but if they seem reasonably happy but privately feel excluded, how am I supposed to know?


Okay, great, but what does that mean?

Have you created an atmosphere where people can bring up "uncomfortable" technical issues? Do people feel comfortable admitting mistakes? Is the group unified in motivated and introspective problem solving towards a shared goal? Hopefully the answers to the above are all yes. Where they are yes, how did someone foster those conditions?

Maybe if I were a manager, I could bring up such concerns in a one-on-one meeting, but if they seem reasonably happy but privately feel excluded, how am I supposed to know?

I think managers are precisely the ones to foster such atmospheres. I suspect that sub-cultural monocultures (cliques) are much easier to form than very self-aware groups. Also, technical issues are easier to talk about and settle arguments around. Social issues are difficult because they deal with so many things on the boundaries of our conscious awareness.

EDIT: In fairness, it seems likely that some of the steps she took to try and fit in may have contributed to her alienation. I think I understand this firsthand.


Well, I think the answer is yes, but then, probably so did most of her teammates. Certainly nobody's actively complaining, but that doesn't mean there isn't similar resentment churning beneath the surface. Just because I'm open to hearing about your problems doesn't mean you feel open to talk about them. But on the other hand, going around to all the minorities and asking them if they feel like I treat them fairly seems (a) supremely uncomfortable on a personal level, (b) more divisive and patronizing than anything else I'm likely to do, and (c) like a chore I really shouldn't be entirely responsible for dealing with just to avoid being labelled an oppressor.


Certainly nobody's actively complaining, but that doesn't mean there isn't similar resentment churning beneath the surface.

Isn't this applicable to all sorts of group pathologies, not just ones that touch on race?

But on the other hand, going around to all the minorities and asking them if they feel like I treat them fairly seems (a) supremely uncomfortable on a personal level, (b) more divisive and patronizing than anything else I'm likely to do, and (c) like a chore I really shouldn't be entirely responsible for dealing with just to avoid being labelled an oppressor.

Why does it have to be particularly about race/ethnicity and directed towards minorities? The goal of artistic collaboration in groups is to get to a point there there isn't any "thing you can't say." The sort of "chore" you're talking about is an exercise that can be used to gain awareness of anything that's supposed to be hard to talk about.

Also, if there's a workplace where people feel comfortable talking about anything that comes up except when it has to do with race, this strikes me as a symptom. And frankly speaking, I think this includes most workplaces out there. (So no wonder people take homogeneity as the easy way out!)


You write and think well about this topic. "Belling the cat" is the issue here as it would be extremely hard to implement a 'tolerance' program that would actually work. What exists today simply forces people to be more sophisticated and coded about resentments, jealousies, frustrations and prejudices. Or causes people to walk on eggshells which deepens the isolation that the author describes.


body language? it's not that hard...


I had a fairly similar feeling.

I've been giving it some thought about why, at least personally, I like to connect with my team, play games together, send jokes, look at new tech toys. I realized that, for myself at least, my work group is my only social circle and I have no other personal bonds or social groups.

I've only been in one group like that. All of my other more diverse groups, all of which I've loved, I have enjoyed a great work relationship, but nothing in common other than the work. The more diverse a group, the more the focus is on just work, no water cooler talk, no goofing off.

If I was faced with a work group I have nothing in common with, the work would be my focus, and I would itch the social scratch outside of work, without my co-workers. Changing yourself to fit into a group is something I figured people just grew out of after leaving high school.

The asshole, I agree with you, but that was just the one. The rest of the story I felt was her own projection, in a microcosm we've all dealt with that in the past. As others have said, an HR department is there to diffuse a situation for the company, not help you. She wanted to please everyone else, I've known plenty of people like that, I'm sure everyone has, they do everything they can, and still feel guilty about it.

Being passed up for a promotion is more likely about scratching the back of someone they know than trying to slight her. I know others who have experienced similar things, because the bosses wanted kickbacks from friends of the contractors, or could get a $1000 referral fee. The reasons people are jerks can also be not because of you, your race, your gender, but because they are acting selfishly. I've personally experienced similar situations being passed up and I imagine it was because they knew the people at the company they contracted in. The in house developers yell "we can do it!" but the money changing hands is too good to pass up.

By the time she mentions NY or the Bay Area she doesn't have a sense of self at all, only the mask. No one else seems to be the oppressor, if I was the odd white male out in a team of a different race and gender I wouldn't try to wear their suits, it wouldn't work in the same way I've seen people try to fit into groups that they just weren't them, but they were discovering who they were.

There is a lot of hardship, depression, self deprecation, and terrible treatment she endured. I'm glad she shared her story, there are other who feel the same about who they are, not just because of race or gender. I'm glad she is taking action in defining who she is as a person, and how she wants to influence people who meet her.

However saying the industry needs to change isn't accurate, it is akin to asking for cliques to not exist, for like minded people to not congregate. She changed herself to fit in, she is now defining who she is, the solution is not to ask others to change to make everyone feel included and accepted. She felt changed, so now she wants to change the industry, which includes the rest of the non-asshole workers.

I've been in very diverse groups, very homogeneous groups, I spent a year in a group as the only male. The real trick is to do as she is doing now, focus on making a you that you like, then cultivate that pride and energy, until being yourself isn't work, but just like putting on shoes.


However saying the industry needs to change isn't accurate, it is akin to asking for cliques to not exist, for like minded people to not congregate.

I would ask for cliques to be self aware of the cognitive distortions group affiliation instincts produce. This could only enhance the problem solving ability of the group as a whole. I would suggest that like minded people congregate, but do so with an awareness of how group psychology operates.

Actually, it's not just industry that needs to change, but humanity as a whole. We can't keep going around unaware of group psychology and the emotional and irrational distortions it produces. We might as well start with industry, particularly the startups. It's exactly this sort of self-awareness that they're supposed to be good at.


Out of curiosity, why do you think that startups are "supposed to be good" at any sort of self awareness?

I ask because I've never heard of "self-awareness" associated with startups before and in my personal experience the vast majority of startups and startup people are incredibly un-self-aware.


Out of curiosity, why do you think that startups are "supposed to be good" at any sort of self awareness?

http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html


I grew up in rural Kentucky. People were polite to me but there was always this strange distance I would encounter when interacting with people, a distance that my friends never seemed to receive. I always chalked it up to my personality. I became a bit of an introvert, took on a passion for computer science, and moved to Silicon Valley after graduation. I fit in splendidly and for the first time in my life I felt like I was part of a real community. It was at this point that I started getting asked "Are you white or Asian?" by many people. It was a completely innocent question but it surprised me so much that I mentioned it in a conversation with my old friends and to my amazement they all wanted to know the answer as well. It blew my mind. Here I was, a 22 year old white guy from rural Kentucky, who just found out he was Asian. No one bothered to tell me growing up, it made me feel both incredibly stupid and somewhat perplexed. Pieces of my past started falling into place all of a sudden. All the strange looks I used to get on the field as a little redneck kid topping tobacco during the summer. The old white farmers at the local BP station asking me questions about the world as if I held some sort of mystic wisdom. My ex-girlfriend who would constantly mention how much she liked Asian guys before we started dating. All of these things and more just hit me like a bag of bricks and I laughed my ass off for a good 10 minutes. My grandmother was Japanese and my mom was half but as a child I was a blonde white kid so as I got older and my hair darkened it never occurred to me that I was anything else. Now that I'm older I kind of like it. My differences, although superficial, make me feel closer to my late mother and grandmother who were both wonderful people.


I got a laugh out of your story - thanks!

It reminded me of a story on Reddit recently about a couple who adopted an Asian baby and then raised him diligently and positively introducing him to Chinese culture, language classes, special efforts with food and communities, etc so he didn't lose that part of his background. At around 18 years of age after almost two decades of efforts along these lines, the father discovers the kid is actually Korean and can't bring himself to tell his oblivious son or wife!


Korean here. Really, there's rather little difference between a Han Chinese person and a Korean. People can tell...sort of...at least some of the time...ish. By the time you get to that point, you're really splitting hairs. Which isn't to say that people didn't try and think it was somehow very important in the past when "racial purity" was enshrined in traditional Korean society.

Reminds me of a friend's anecdote about people in Scotland in the 60's talking about differences in accents resulting from being from a town 9 miles away.


Reminds me of a friend's anecdote about people in Scotland in the 60's talking about differences in accents resulting from being from a town 9 miles away.

A lot of places in Europe are still like that. "In USA 100 years is a long time, in Europe 100km is a long distance"


Here in the UK you can pretty much pinpoint where a person's from down to a 10 mile radius if you know the local accents, sometimes finer than that. It's fading a bit and accents are becoming more homogenised, but it's still a thing.


Henry Higgins claimed better precision than that in My Fair Lady.


Same in Slovenia (and other parts of Europe). My mother and her relatives will use words when speaking their village dialect that someone from a short distance away could not comprehend.

In this Reddit story, I think they did things like get him Mandarin lessons, practice various customs, find a Chinese "uncle and aunt" to take him to dim sum and whatever else. Then when signing his son up for college applications, the father noticed the surnames of his kid's birth parents were very typical Korean names. All those good intentions!


In fact (I'm sure you know this but most won't), Korea in Mandarin is Han Guo. There is a lot longer history of sameness than difference.


"Han" in "Hanguk" is not the same "han" in "Han Chinese". Within East Asia, Koreans and Han Chinese are distinct ethnicities.


Within the British Isles, Scottish and English are supposedly distinct ethnicities. How well can you tell this from still photographs devoid of cultural cues? Not very. Are there distinct gene pools? According to the documentary, "A Celtic History of the British Isles," not so much. Basically, there was so much interbreeding under the Romans, there's hardly any genetic distinction left.

I'd expect there to be some small degree of genetic distinctness, but there has always been a history of interbreeding. There's even an old Korean stereotype about rich bewhiskered Chinese merchants who come down to marry a hot young Korean wife.

In short -- Ethnic differences between Han Chinese and Koreans: mainly cultural.


Scotland is still like that FYI.


Ireland too


i'm fully asian with a white last name. when people meet me for the first time after communicating with me electronically they're always a little surprised. although, in my case i can see them kind of experiencing a little cognitive dissonance, which is fun.


One of my professors though I was Hungarian. Turns out, my Korean Catholic name is also a perfectly good Hungarian one, if you don't see the middle one spelled out.


A similar phenomenon sometimes occurs with Europeans who have an epicanthic fold, e.g. Sami or Hungarians whose ancestry includes people from the Golden Horde. Locally, they are unremarkable but if they move to an area with many people of Asian descent they are often considered "Chinese".


Oh man that is almost exactly my story too, except in rural/suburban Texas and being mulatto. The part about "mystic wisdom" is spot on as people always thought I had special insight into "urban" culture.


It's really nice to hear such a personal, candid take on the need for diversity. It's a refreshing change from the politically-charged generalities you often see written by your typical white male twentysomething in the tech industry when they write about diversity. Sharing these kinds of concrete, lifelong experiences really drives home the point of why it's necessary: it's not diversity for its own sake, it's for the sake of not alienating people like our author here, people who undoubtedly have a lot to contribute.


Indeed. I dislike the narrative that diversity is somehow desirable because it results in [better products|more productivity|better team cohesion], among many other cited reasons.

These may be true, but it misses the point: personal dignity is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

I get that spinning it as a "this is scientifically better and has capitalistic/rationalistic superior outcomes" may be necessary to appeal to the self-described rationalists in our industry for whom "because people feel like shit in this environment" doesn't even register. But it does feel wrong.


Seems a lot like the difference between "Free Software" and "Open Source": does the target audience care about this on principle for its own sake, or do you have to spin it as producing a better product?


> These may be true, but it misses the point: personal dignity is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

As a black engineer, seeing this maxim put into words really felt like lifting a weight off my shoulders. It's like, why should we have to "sell" ourselves to the majority in order to maintain a job? It's 2014, not 1914, we should be included regardless.


Everyone "sells" themselves to the "majority" in order to make things work. There's too much of a "precious tulip" assumption here - I'm sure you're a great person and all your friends love you, but you just can't be 100% quirks and doodads at work.

Source: white, will-die-from-lithium-poisoning bipolar, has to keep it together to make it work at... work.


I'm not sure what you're arguing here exactly. If you're white you're in the racial majority. If you think having darker skin means someone is "100% quirks and doodads" then obviously I wouldn't want to have to "sell" myself to someone like you because the effort would be futile.


If you don't know a bipolar person I can see your confusion. Knowing a few I can say they quite often do not "fit it" with the norm, even if they are racially similar. Conformity happens on may levels. Racial conformity is an obvious one due to it being visual. Social conformity is a bit less visible but just as "important" in most cases.


wasn't the point of my last comment.


> "but you just can't be 100% quirks and doodads at work."

Being black is "quirks and doodads" now?


Here, let me help you out: > As a bipolar engineer, seeing this maxim put into words really felt like lifting a weight off my shoulders. It's like, why should we have to "sell" ourselves to the majority in order to maintain a job? It's 2014, not 1914, we should be included regardless.


Do white male twenty somethings generally write about diversity? Every one I've seen who's expressed an opinion asides from 'my opinions don't matter' gets routinely slaughtered regardless of their views.


I can't imagine why people might feel that the opinions of white men might be well respresented already.


What about that individual's opinion? Or do you mean to say that because of their gender and race, they already conform to your stereotype?


Non-white people already often feel like they are spoken over.

The world does not suffer for a lack of opinions on anything from white people -- it's fair to say such opinions are even overrepresented in the world of available writing.

If people already well-represented care about diversity, they should help some of the not-well-represented speak up.


So all white men hold the same opinion? Or is there a finite number of opinions capable of being held by white men, and all of them are represented adequately in print?

Weird statement, either way.


It's not weird. If we were deciding between green shoes or pink shoes and all we heard were opinions from people who own green shoes, it would be weird. Does that mean all green shoed people think the same? No. But clearly we'd like to hear from everyone to make an informed decision.


Your analogy is a bit flawed as the color of my shoes is something I can chose and change at any point in time.

If I was born with green feet and you were born with pink ones, perhaps my opinions should hold the same weight as the guy born with pink feet. Just because you were born with pink feet doesn't make you any more or less special than me.


> Just because you were born with pink feet doesn't make you any more or less special than me.

No one said that. Feeling insecure?


Not in the least, but thanks for trying to make it personal.

I'm just pointing out that you saying that because someone is from the majority then their opinion counts less is flawed.


The opinions of one group do not represent the individuals therein.


I think it feels genuine, uneditorialized, and a statement of facts, rather than an article trying to further an agenda.


The article has a pretty clear agenda:

> I don’t need to change to fit within my industry. My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted.

Moreover, articles that "don't try to further an agenda" are often furthering and normalizing the status-quo.


I don’t need to change to fit within my industry. My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted.

Human cultures in general just aren't that good at making different people feel at home. Given our history, why in the world would we expect any of them to be good at that at all? The natural inclination is to make the different individual, the outgroup person, conform to group norms. The way human cultures have dealt with our typically primate social instincts is to accede to them. The way we are with regard to our instincts and typical behaviors around groups is woven into our culture and the way we think. Also consider: We've probably been evolving our group instincts for far longer than we've had language. What would that imply about how deeply ingrained and how conscious such behaviors are?

Now, given that the above is true, what rationale can you come up with that would lead us to believe that our cultural knowledge equips us to deal well with diversity? Actually, I don't even think the "mental furnishings" in academic writings around these subjects that I've been exposed to are very useful to everyday people in everyday situations. (I could cite your suspicion around agendas to be evidence in this regard.) If there is any community that has the potential to engage in the "meta-level" self examination required to develop mental tools for dealing with this, I propose that certain subsets of the tech community are good candidates. (Though there is a lot of groupthink there as well.)


That's because cultures change on timescales of centuries. If it works at all like gene transmission works, it isn't worth adapting the culture : one of the cultures will die out in less than the time it would take to adapt.

This is called "island species" : where there are barriers that prevent gene/meme transmission (like an ocean before the internet), you can have different cultures/races. If you take away the barrier (in Darwin's book it was a rock surfacing that allowed birds to fly from one island to another), one of the cultures will die due to cross-pollination. It is theorized that for memes, racism is one such boundary.

In history you do see this happen. Racism occurs because only a single group lives in an area. For some reason (war, natural disaster, ...) a large group of foreignors moves in, peacefully (rarely) or not. Then there is a period of time where there is obvious racism, and it disappears. Once it's gone one of the cultures vanishes entirely, and racism slowly starts to rebuild.

So don't worry : your kids will have much less problems than you do, and your grandchildren will not even know what different cultures are anymore. Ironically, these days, racism is the one of the last things remaining that can keep cultures going in the 21st century. If we destroy that, a single monoculture (one of the existing cultures, by numbers, I'd say probably Chinese culture, by far the most homogeneous at such a size) will expand and destroy everything else.


That's because cultures change on timescales of centuries. If it works at all like gene transmission works, it isn't worth adapting the culture : one of the cultures will die out in less than the time it would take to adapt.

Your comment seems to carry assumptions about the granularity at which transmission works, which aren't appropriate for memes. Bacteria can gain the immunities from other bacterial species through plasmids. In the same way, people can appropriate ideas from other cultures/sub-cultures.

This is called "island species" : where there are barriers that prevent gene/meme transmission

What the historical record would suggest, is that effective barriers to memetic transmission are the exception rather than the rule. It's even more the exception in the era of the Internet.

Racism occurs because only a single group lives in an area.

Racism comes from outgroup psychology operating on signals involving race/ethnicity. I'd say that racism doesn't exist where there is no awareness of racial difference. (In those situations, classism and other forms of internecine prejudice can arise.)

It is theorized that for memes, racism is one such boundary.

Please give examples of memes for which racism acted as an effective boundary. Racism seems to have zero boundary effect in Japan and Korea, though their traditional cultures once institutionalized racism.

EDIT: Also, recent research has revealed that biological evolution can be detected in large mammals on the timescale of only several centuries.


You forgot language barriers. I think that is far more significant.


She fought extremely hard over a long period to make herself fit within the industry, and found that had a profoundly detrimental effect on her health. That, not inclusiveness and diversity, is the status quo.


I doubt this will be a popular take on it, but she seems to have let coworkers she didn't particularly care for become her whole social life. Of course that would make someone quite unhappy. I was like that perhaps 10 years ago and I had to become much better at creating boundaries between work and the rest of my life; this made me much happier.

If she wanted a suggestion, I'd tell her to look for companies with older people in them. They often have kids, and treat a job as a job -- you come, work, and leave -- rather than the entirety of their existence. I don't have kids, but I find myself much happier when the median coworker does.


That is some McCarthyist nonsense, right there. Not everyone that disagrees with you is against you.


That's not what they said.


Are people who disagree with you often against you?


If you're in a supportive environment where freedom of thought and debate are allowed, then no, people aren't usually against you just because of the ideas you hold.


What my moving to the Bay Area has solidified for me, is that we as a culture do not know how to deal with group psychology.

Really, it's no wonder, because the mechanisms of group cohesion and ingroup/outgroup distinction have probably been with us even longer than language has. Furthermore, practically every form of human organization uses those mechanisms for group solidarity. As a result, we are as ill equipped to deal with the consequences of group psychology as ancient greek philosophers were at dealing with aerodynamics. Because no human culture yet has the proper "mental furnishings" to effectively deal with such phenomena, the best that most people currently manage is to point out examples of everyone else's groupthink while being largely blind to our own.

The way that group membership and identification distorts thought is essentially "bought into" by our language and our culture, to the point that even our attempts at dispassionate academic examinations of the phenomenon are colored by the same phenomena.

http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-psyc...

I would like to thank EricaJoy for writing about such experiences so clearly.


Just read through the thread again and I really enjoyed your comments. I just wanted to say they were well thought out and you've given me the impression you know your stuff, or are knowledgable enough to form an opinion. I am neither when it comes to psychology, but I love to read anyhow. Thanks for all the various psychology links and new reading. This was a long winded compliment, in case I lost my point along the way.


At this point, I just know what I don't know. I just rediscovered this page:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/5me/scholarship_how_to_do_it_efficie...

Really, I'm just embarking on studies around such psychology. I'm beginning to think that ingroup/outgroup psychology and society's general ineffectiveness at dealing with it is a foundational problem I was meant to work on.


> I really enjoyed your comments.

Me too!


I am a black (Haitian and Dominican decent) 26-year-old male DevOps Engineer living in Atlanta and I can totally understand where she is coming from. I always try to not think much of it, but somehow there is definitely this feeling that I don't belong. I could never put my finger on exactly what it is because I do get along great with my co-workers and have never seen my race as a hindrance. I just feel like there is no room for the real me, so all my co-workers get is the side of me I want them to see which is the EDM loving, Linux ninja that I'm expected to be.

It is feels even worse when I go to a tech conference like the upcoming AWS re:Invent because I'm usually the only black guy around, but I still participate as much as possible and even placed in last year’s hackathon.

I hope I don't come off as whiny because I still very much love what I do and would not trade it for the world. I have met and worked with some awesome people over the years and have learned so much. Sorry for the mini-rant, I just wanted to give some of my perspective on the matter


Quite honestly, if you don't mind sharing, what's the delta between the real you and the expected you?

(Also, how would you characterize 'expected you' as being different from a 'professional you' that we all live with the pressure of in the work world?)


I am not even sure how to properly describe it. My friends who know the real me know that I am more of an in your face kind of person, not in a bad or menacing way but in a way that may make some co-workers uncomfortable.

I like to have spirited debates with friends, which from the outside might look like arguing or some sort of confrontation. When dealing with co-workers or people that I am not very close with I do my best to tone down my personality.

I am not a small guy and certain people I've come across have even confided in me that they were for some reason intimidated by me when they first meet me. I don't think that would be the case if I were not black. not really sure what that's about

Even little things like the type of music I am willing to admit I enjoy are different between peer groups.

not sure if that answers your question but that kind of sums it up


I do think it might be the case if you were white. Why? Because I am, and you just described difficulties I've faced perfectly. I am fairly confrontational - I believe objective reality exists, we can measure and reason about it, and feelings should be ignored. I'm also 6'6", currently a cruiserweight but often a heavyweight. I intuitively think statistically, which I'm told adds to things.

A very good friend of mine told me she is sometimes intimidated by me. We have difficult conversations on a stairwell - she stands 2-3 steps up.

In my next job, I'm going to be very careful to work somewhere that shares my style. In many cultures (e.g. the NY hipster culture) I would be better off hiding the real me. So I strongly suspect this may just be you (and me), not a race thing.

Of course, human perception is biased and irrational, so my experience may be 100% me while yours is 50% you 50% race.


Thanks for the perspective. I just find it odd that people would find me intimidating especially other men who are of equal or greater size.


In my next job, I'm going to be very careful to work somewhere that shares my style. In many cultures (e.g. the NY hipster culture) I would be better off hiding the real me.

I hope that in future generations, public behavior that requires people to "hide the real" self will be regarded in the same light that toxic overtly racist speech is held in today. Usually, when people feel they need to "hide the real me" it's because they are afraid of the occurrence of a toxic mob situation with ingroup/outgroup psychology as its foundation.


This is an illustration of "Stereotype threat".


thank you for your response.


I'm a 20-something white male and feel exactly the same. Maybe it's just a personality trait? Do you think it's possible that the feeling you don't belong is not related to your skin colour? I'm asking genuinely, not rhetorically.


This is probably the most genuine perspective I've read around women and black people in tech. It is refreshing to read actual experiences and views without general vagaries. I can only hope that as a white male twentysomething I'm not contributing to these hostile environments.

As a gay man her self-actualization at the end reminded me of my own coming out in high school and college. It sucks that some people have such a hard time coming to a place of self confidence like this, and I suspect some people who never experience this otherness never have the identity crisis that leads to it. It's certainly a diffult but interesting and ultimately rewarding experience having to think critically about your own identity.


> It sucks that some people have such a hard time coming to a place of self confidence like this

This. I never fit in anywhere, not because of color, gender or anything substantial really. I am just crazy stubborn and have a weird set of interests and world views. It never was a problem for me because I didn't even consider adapting. It was always an active and conscious choice to choose my own persona freely.

I think the world would be a better place if everyone had a self-confidence boost. In our big organized world everybody feels so small and tends to treat himself poorly, which leads to them treating others poorly who then again feel smaller.


White male engineer here. The isolation described by the author is felt by many, myself included. Obviously the issue is not a problem with my race or sex but one still closely tied to a lack of diversity in these environments. I don't see how any company can claim to be building any component of our future when its environment can scarcely represent some semblance of actual society. The IT industry has a serious "bro problem". A problem felt perhaps most vividly by the minority groups in this industry but also felt, though in a manner that may be harder to describe and even harder to justify, by many of the majority group. I doubt anyone here would want to live in a city that is 80% white male, much less have it build our future societies.


What is interesting to me is the author describes feeling most at home when surrounded not by diversity, but by those like her. That's the same reason these companies wind up so homogenous in the first place.

I can't help but wonder if, assuming this is what makes everybody most comfortable (being surrounded by people like them, rather than being surrounded by diversity), the quest for diversity might simply result in cultural balkanization within companies as cultural/racial/gender/social groups coalesce (thanks to that preference)

That very thing already happens at my employer, with regards to age. The company has a diverse selection of age, and the result is fairly strong social siloing by age.


I understand your point. But I don't think the author was arguing just for a different form of homeogeny. But regardless, even if that were the case one has to put themselves in the authors shoes. [Statement A] Having lived in environments where I was the minority I then find it refreshing to be in the majority at times. When I then discuss the issues I find with the homeogenic environment I find myself in you could read Statement A as being an indication I want a different form of homeogeny or as a valid critique of the environment I'm discussing.

Regardless of the authors own desires the situation of the demographic bias that is clearly indisputable in the IT industry warrants her statements be considered on the grounds of the words without subjecting hidden intent. And those words are criticism of this IT homeogeny.

I also agree that your question of cultural balkanisation is interesting. But I don't think the IT industry in particular ever has to worry about this except when it comes to the balkanisation it already creates by dejecting minorities of race and sex, but also in dejecting members of the majority that simply find this environment offers too little culturally to bother with.


It is not a thought about hidden intent, but a thought about the end-game of diversity. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much diversity, for example, where there are no groups in the company with relative homogeneity and everyone feels isolated? Perhaps the value of diversity is not diversity itself, but rather having a selection of possible groups into which a new hire might chose to integrate?

The current narrative around diversity does not seem to quite align to her story, which is why I am intrigued. It raises interesting questions. If her story is a story of a woman leaving one culture of homogeneity that excluded her to another culture of homogeneity that included her, that says different things about the value of diversity than moving from a culture of homogeneity to a culture of diversity.


>Perhaps the value of diversity is not diversity itself, but rather having a selection of possible groups into which a new hire might chose to integrate?

I think this may be one good solution. Sharing her story, and volunteering to help other young women like herself can inspire them with someone in the industry they can relate to. Actions like that, from minorities, will really help.

Those in the majority really need to work to rid themselves of unfair biases. It shouldn't be taboo for one to point out errors in another's bias. Attitudes like that of her teammate in Atlanta are extremely toxic, and he needs to be informed that he was wrong. Even the more subtle errors of mistaking her for a personal assistant or security worker are an indication of how much improvement is necessary. If we can remain blind to stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, sexual preference, etc. and let actions alone be the basis of judging another, then minorities like the author won't have to lose their identities to work in the industry of their choice.


On the broader question of "diversity", I agree, but would add to this a contemplation of if one extreme requires the other. maybe the answer is an obvious "yes" but does the extreme isolation of one group increase the weight in desire for an opposite?


While being a long term hn lurker, I finally decided to create an account to post because I think my life experience might have something interesting to contribute to this discussion.

While I understand your questions about the end goal of diversity, I feel differently about the benefits people get from it.

> Perhaps the value of diversity is not diversity itself, but rather having a selection of possible groups into which a new hire might chose to integrate?

Here I disagree. While it might be an improvement for people to have an option of a group to self-segregate with - I really do feel that having true meaningful relationships with people of diverse backgrounds (across what ever dimension you are considering) provide tremendous value. I know it sounds a bit like a TV Public Service Announcement, but allow me to give a bit of background.

To me it is natural. I grew up in NYC - a fairly diverse city. I went to a somewhat diverse high school. Throughout most of my life, the majority of my friends have been of different races (black, white, latino, asian,..), religions (christian, jewish, muslim, buddhist, hindu), wealthy, poor.... I've been surrounded by interracial, interethnic, interreligious marriages and honestly thought little of it. It wasn't until I left nyc for college and afterwards for work, that I realized how rare my life experiences were. At that point I realized how different the average persons's life - and how it usually consisted of them being around people that were fairly similar to them. And it's not that there aren't tons of self-selecting self-similar groups in nyc (because like everywhere in the world of course there are and it's the norm); it was that normal life consisted of so continuously moving between different homogeneous and different diverse groups that people understood what it was like to be both in the majority and in the minority - as well as connect with people who were in either.

One example for me was baseball. In middle school, in the span of 3 years I played on 3 different mostly homogeneous baseball teams. An essentially all black little league team one year where I was in the majority, followed by an essentially all latino little league team (a different neighborhood) followed by an essentially all white middle school team. Between the three teams: The first I was a member of the homogeneous group, the second had a different racial minority be the homogeneous group, and the third had the societal majority group be the homogeneous group. All three were different experiences, but in the end... it's all baseball.

The baseball experience and others like it give you a different view of group social dynamics and people you are different from. One other notable point in my life that shaped my views on diversity and acceptance came during my later high school and early college years. It was through interactions with a generalized group of people. In nyc at the time people usually pejoratively referred to them as "bridge and tunnelers" (a term I never particularly cared for). What I saw of them, they were suburbanites living mostly in new jersey or long island who commuted into nyc to party on weekends. If I had to make a generalization comparison I would say there was some overlap with what people think of as the "Jersey Shore", but actual real normal people and not absurd reality tv caricatures. So it was a group I hadn't interacted with much previously, but as I started hanging out with friends a night a bit more, began to interact with them some more through friends of friends or random city encounters. There was something about them that I didn't like - but I couldn't understand why. It was very rare I would have a dislike for a generalized group of people, and am usually pretty easily able to relate to people individually regardless of what particular background they were, but I knew from trying that I couldn't successfully relate to them in conversation. Not that we couldn't have a conversation, but that it didn't feel like a natural conversation, at best just a superficial interaction. I was too young to understand at the time, but I realized later in life my issue with the was that they didn't play by the rules that new yorkers did.

My view of the rules was that people meet, they have differences, they find commonalities and connect over it. But they didn't seem to do that. They had a specific sub-culture and the implicit rule was that to connect with one of them you needed to match their sub-culture. There was no real sharing, no common ground, no meet in the middle. It was connect by adhering to their sub-culture or not connecting. And when differences were noted if was often with derision (ex. A version of the "You actually like that food {blah} of {insert ethnic group here} it's so {weird/smelly/...}"). And I don't mean that they were mean or bad people, or had any form of malice - my conclusion was simply that their values were shaped by being around people who were always very similar to them. It's the exact same way that a new yorker upon meeting someone might comment "You're actually a Boston Red Sox fan? That's ridiculous - they're a terrible franchise." (side note, people's views on sports for whatever reason are somewhat stickier and less accepting than other areas of their lives). It's a comment in ny that probably a lot of people wouldn't think twice about because they're surrounded by so many people who think similarly. It's not a negative marker of who they are, it's simply that they've essentially been around people who mostly hold similar views. (And, btw if you happen to be one of those new yorkers who hasn't left the city, spend some time outside of the city and you'll be shocked to find out how much of the rest of the country can't stand the Yankee's. Especially when they were winning.)

So for that Yankee's fan, I think the best thing is for them to spend some time outside of new york. Have lots of conversations where people discuss the yankees before they know you're a fan. Hear them talk about their team. Afterwards the Yankees fan doesn't have to feel guilty about rooting for the Yankees, nor feel they need to root for them any less. But sitting in an airport on the west coast having a conversation with someone it might be a bit easier for them to say "I realize you're an SF Giants fan, and I'm a Yankees fan, but we can still find stuff to connect over because... hey it's baseball."

So this post has gone on long enough. I could write a ton more, but I feel that I've made my points as best as I could. I truly feel that having meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people in all aspects of life is one of life's greatest benefits and should be the goal in itself. And I felt the need to share this because I've realized as I've aged that this might be something that some people may not know due to simply not having the opportunity to experience it first hand. If the only thing you've experienced is "diversity day" style diversity, or "token diversity" I could completely see the desire to look for the purpose of diversity vs. seeing it as the actual goal.

I could make an analogy to diversity of knowledge of programming languages. If a person sees learning a second programming language as an exercise in "I should 'know' a second language because I'll be more marketable", or "because someone told me it's good" and spends a week or so looking into it they may not find it extremely beneficial in and of itself. But learning and gaining meaningful experience in functional programming the first time is a really self-benefiting task. Even if you never use it professionally, or even if you never use it again, the ideas you are exposed to in a language like Lisp or Haskell change the way you program and think in your language of choice. Diversity of views _is_ the benefit.

My final thoughts are this. If you've ever traveled to a foreign country and stayed with with a family where you barely spoke the language, didn't know the culture, had never tried the food but were completely welcomed like family it's an amazing experience and anyone who has experienced it will agree. That is what being inclusive and accepting of people who are different looks like - they accepted you. That type of acceptance in the presence of difference is what the model of successful diversity looks like to me.


I've never been to NYC, but the diversity there, as you describe it, seems pretty amazing. You're lucky to have grown up within it. I'm married to a Brazilian, and she was the only one who spoke English when I'd visit her there while we were dating. She couldn't translate everything for everyone, so I had to pick up Portuguese as quickly as possible. I can confirm that the welcome I received into that new and different culture was an amazing experience.

I agree with your message about the value of diversity, but the challenge I see is getting everyone to embrace that value. Imagine that group of suburbanites was the majority in a city/industry you want to be in. What do you think can be done to help them understand the value of being open to learning/trying new things from different cultures while they share their own culture with those who want to learn?


When reading this post, I almost expected the writer to turn things around and make a realization of this sort. No hard feelings on my part though - just a sense of anticipation at work.


This is exactly it. She keeps saying diversity, but what she describes feeling comfortable with is a homogenous environment, just of people she identifies with. She didn't like Oakland because it was diverse, she liked the black part of Oakland because it was full of black people.


i don't think the author said what you think but, regardless, consider if the extreme isolation created by the demographic bias of the work environment did not itself create the desire for the opposite.


Obviously the issue is not a problem with my race or sex but one still closely tied to a lack of diversity in these environments.

I don't think that the problem is so much of a lack of diversity, as it is a lack of awareness of group dynamics. It's far too simpleminded to just wish that diversity will solve our social problems. It could help, but it could just as well create a situation that makes things worse.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/lt/the_robbers_cave_experiment/

The same unconscious behaviors that make power so seductive and corrupting are the same unconscious processes that causes us to "outgroup" people who are different. Resisting such group psychology is at about the same level of difficulty as overcoming our cravings for sugar.

I could liken our current culture's level of (in)competence with group psychology with the culture's general level of cluelessness when first confronted with distilled alcohols or when dealing with trespassing laws after the advent of airplanes. After 1000's of years where levels of individual power and affluence were constrained by geography and group membership, we have been thrown with exponentially increasing velocity into an era where personal mobility and communications power are creating opportunities for people of different groups to interact. We've gone from mostly stratified to our current highly dynamic state of society in just a few hundred years. Yet we're still largely using "mental furnishings" from our jingoistic and stratified past -- to the point where a lot of dialogue concerning issues of ethnicity, culture, gender, and minority status consists of hostility, distrust, and more typical "mindless jingoism" produced by those same group psychologies.

What's more, I'm not entirely sure that the culture as a whole is capable of dealing with the kind of meta-level thinking it would take to become competently aware of our own group psychology.


This may reflect something I experienced. I grew up in Salt Lake City. I'm not Mormon. In high school, I felt very isolated. I felt like all the social activities centered on the Mormon church, and that I was an outsider because of that.

Twenty or thirty years later, I started to realize: Maybe it was just because I was a nerd. I was small, short, socially awkward, geeky - the usual. It didn't take people rejecting me for me to feel like an outcast.

But the article said there were also racist and sexist jokes. That's an additional source of feeling isolated that the white males (me included) don't have to put up with - and which nobody should have to put up with, ever.


I'm a Non-mormon nerd who grew up in SLC, too. I felt the same way, with kids asking me which ward I attended, etc. I've wondered how much of it was from group differences and how much was from personality differences. It may be telling that none of my friends were Mormon (except for one whose parents were Jack-Mormon). There was definitely a sense of exclusion when I lived there, at least on the part of the kids.

Living in Florida now, where LDS are a small minority who are perceived as wholesome, friendly, peaceful, quaint, and somewhat like a more modern version of the Amish. People laugh when I tell them I was beaten up by groups of Mormon children. Being a minority of any type is tough.

BTW, if you lived in the Aves, or attended Horizons or EQUIP in the '80s, I might have known you. There couldn't have been more than a few hundred non-Mormon nerds in the valley, I think.


Sorry. Skyline, class of 1980. Never attended Horizons or EQUIP.


Please, tell, what jokes are acceptable? That's a very serious question. You cannot joke about gender or race, ok, fair enough. The I guess you cannot joke about nationality as well. Same goes for physical traits or occupation. Same goes for the marital status. Well I guess better not to joke about the humans at all. What's left? Animals? Better not, PETA may be all over you. Let's play it safely and joke about rocks.

And before you are outraged how dare I compare such serious problems as racism and sexism with some trivialities ask yourself: isn't it racist or sexist not to compare them? You say black person has more right to be offended by the joke about black people than some poor white bachelor by the joke about bachelors?

Sadly it seems that the concept of joke is being lost. You can hardly convince anyone that it is possible to tell all kinds of not PC jokes without being racist, sexist, homophobic. Heck the joke itself may be the joke ridiculing racism, sexism, etc. Alas, the finer points will be lost for sure.

We are losing personal responsibility and personal ethics. It's being replaced by pattern recognition and very crude pattern recognition, mostly with stupid regexp matching single words and not being able to see the context at all. _if (match_found) then self.offended = true_


> "what jokes are acceptable?"

From the comment you were responding to:

> "That's an additional source of feeling isolated"

gives you a rule of thumb. Are these jokes isolating? Dave Chappelle tells racist jokes all the time, and they're side-splittingly funny and as far as I can tell not at all isolating. His "black white supremacist" skit is absolutely hilarious. On the other hand, some comedian just today started making slavery-and-rape jokes about a black woman on TV, and it was both unfunny and clearly isolating (as a straight white male, I felt isolated by his jokes. That's how creepy and weird they were.)


it probably wasn't just because you were a nerd. Utah is incredibly isolating to many non-Mormons.


White male engineer here as well, that also identifies with what the OP is saying. When a number of people from all differentiating groups all identify in the same, or similar ways, I don't see how people can continue to call it an issue of diversity.

It appears to me that some people are just not good at making friends (myself included), and it doesn't surprise me that the IT industry has an abundance of people with that difficulty.


  > I don't see how any company can claim to be building any
  > component of our future when its environment can scarcely
  > represent some semblance of actual society. 
And I don't see how that's relevant at all. It's the same as saying that "I don't see how agriculture can feed our society when farmers can scarcely represent some semblance of actual society".

As long as you are actively seeking diversity you won't have diversity. The true diversity comes when it no longer matters.


[flagged]


No doubt 1 out of 1 of the world's best newspapers, as ranked by the Telegraph, are written by white males too.



I have - it was the required book to read for the entire freshman class of my university (across all majors).

Even if you accept its findings (they are debated) - it merely answers the question of why Europeans were victorious.

It doesn't question whether the society built by white men is good - but merely answers why :)


that we (in the west) live in a white mans world has until now been a given. this however should not close to the door for consideration of possible negative effects that the boys club patriarchy creates and potential benefits that might be found in breaking it apart.


Sure. But we clearly have different societies to compare - ones created/run by white and non-white men (no matriarchies unfortunately).

And when I take a look around the world - I do have to give credit to those dead white men. Western Europe, AUS/NZ & US/Canada are really the nicest places I've seen - ie not just comparing beauty of nature but what people have done with the land and its resources.


Oh do me a fucking favour. Non-white men have built cities and civilisations for 10,000 years, hewn staggering beauty from jungle, from plains, from desert and mountains, in Giza, Mexico, India, China and elsewhere.

250 years ago a bunch of Europeans stumbled on cheap coal and condensing boilers and crop rotation - those gifts gave to the whole world and it's future - but not because our ancestors were white, just because they were in the right place at the right time.

I am really hoping you were trolling for the lolz.


While I'm collecting downvotes: wheren't many of them also white in India, even before the European expansion?


Weren't they white in Giza?


What society have you seen that wasn't created/run by dead white men? Because colonialism, slavery and all that. You're free to count the lives that your ubermen improved, but the rest of us are going to subtract the ones they fucked up.


China?


and most of the shitholes you've probably never seen are also legacies of dead white men.


What about the Native American societies, which tracked heritage matrilineally? If we looked hard enough we ought to find some matriarchies somewhere.


There aren't any. Anthropologists have been all over this. There are degrees of egalitarianism and obviously there are unambiguous patriarchies. No one's ever found a matriarchy, or evidence of one existing.


Okay. Thanks for clearing that up.


If you think Vancouver, BC is a "white" city, you are oh so sorely mistaken.


>He’d say things like “Did you get that bruise from your boyfriend beating you?” or “I bet your parents abused you as a child.”

Really don't know what to say about this quote. I can understand not being able to fit in to a homogenous culture, but this guy is just an asshole.


>"I can understand not being able to fit in to a homogenous culture, but this guy is just an asshole."

Clearly.

Problem is, in my experience...

1.) No one wants to get involved.

2.) It's easier to be accommodating of assholes when they're directing their behavior at someone who isn't "one of you" on some level or another.

3.) It's easier to be accommodating of an asshole who also happens to be a "great engineer", "would do anything for a friend" or has their childish nonsense rationalized as "lacking people skills".

I'd wager someone, likely many people in that situation knew exactly what was going on yet did nothing for one or more of the above reasons.

As a group we just need to recognize that those people among us, our friends and coworkers who are shitty to the loner on the team or rude to the cleaning lady, but wonderful to their peers - they're assholes and deserve to be held to account for it.


I agree, and I wonder in practical terms what I could do. I agree that it's everyone's responsibility. Here are the options I see:

1. Talk to the asshole. Fits well with the ideal "take care of it yourself" ethic, but in most cases, I don't think this will go well. Fights, defensiveness, turf, escalation, etc. Works well when asshole is not actually an ass, just ignorant.

2. Talk to HR. Seems snitchy, but it can have real results, since HR often has levers to pull here.

3. Talk to a manager (theirs or yours). Ditto.

My experience is that when you're in an organization, as much as I'd like to "take care of it myself" by talking directly to the culprit, usually talking to superiors / HR is the way to go.

That requires that the HR & management can handle it of course. In most cases I've seen, they know what to do. In a few, they didn't -- and that was indicative of a company that was doomed.


This is where HR should be available to act as a third party, but sadly that's not the real function of HR in most companies.


The reason this perpetuates is because there is no way to win. Crush this person on legal grounds (good luck if your HR department defends the company and not you) no one will trust you again on your team. Let it ride to go along and get along, you may suffer the reputation of taking it and also have these attacks used to undermine you on the corporate ladder.

Brutal and disgusting.


the sadder part, I have seen minority managers pick on other minorities and make comments that would never fly if from a non-minority. as one friend told me, who is going to believe him, let alone care.


This shouldn't be about winning some battle. It's not illegal to be an asshole - I can walk into your workplace and say "sunir's spouse is a complete idiot and shouldn't be allowed to reproduce." Likely though, I wouldn't be working there much longer. Simply put the guy is toxic and it makes me sick that it was swept under the rug. It further confuses that this happened at Google as I'd never imagined their culture tolerating a toxic work environment. Even worse if it was swept under the rug because she was a black woman.


Actually, it is illegal to create a hostile work environment under the California labor law (and many other US states and developed countries). Race and gender are protected statuses.

Companies are expected to have anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policies.

References:

http://www.toplawfirm.com/HostileWorkEnvironment.html

http://www.harriskaufman.com/Articles/Harassment-Advice-What...


There are people out there who aren't necessarily toxic in general, but can say toxic things from time to time. And to be honest, if you got rid of everyone who had asshole lapses, you would be left with only the most socially capable (and not necessarily the best asocial engineering talent). Other than that, I'm not sure what the solution should be.


Why do people expect Google to have a good culture? I really don't get it.

* Huge company

* Misanthropic "products"

* Based in a notoriously capitalist country

Sure that must be a great place to work.


If you're going to disqualify every company that is "based in a notoriously capitalistic country", then your bias against capitalism is so strong that it's over-riding your ability to judge a workplace on its merits.

For that matter, if you're that strongly against capitalism, doesn't the idea of a corporation itself offend you? It's not just the country it's based in.


It was just one of three points. How about:

* Small company

* Vegetable farming

* Based in notoriously capitalist country

I can see working there.

> strongly against capitalism

Actually I am rather embracing capitalism, which is weird, because one must be an idiot to not have very very very strong feelings against the meat grinder. To you US guys this may sound off, but the somewhat educated human being does not think capitalism entails freedom. In fact it is common knowledge that it causes general loss of humanity, democracy and quality of both life and dreams.

So consider this a "for the record": Of course capitalism is a big no-no (well duh). But if your living in a capitalist country anyways, you might consider avoiding big companies because they tend to make use of all the benefits capitalism entails them to.

> For that matter, if you're that strongly against capitalism, doesn't the idea of a corporation itself offend you? It's not just the country it's based in.

It might make sense looking up "capitalism". A corporation in itself is not really related to capitalism. Instead, its system of profit-by-property (the capital) instead of profit-by-labor is usually pinned as the core concept.


There are ranges of capitalism and democratic socialism. It's not black and white.


>good luck if your HR department defends the company and not you

What do you mean "if"? That is what HR is for, defending the company. They do not exist for your benefit.


It is very much in the companies best interest to stop that kind of thing. If you go to them and they don't deal with the situation, they open themselves up to massive liability.


People forget that an employee is also a member of the company. What if the accuser is in management? Who is HR supposed to defend? By choosing to defend discrimination over the route that might actually resolve the situation, HR can end up causing more problems for the company in the end.


I am from Russia and at every party somebody will ask me if I drink Vodka or if I drink Vodka for breakfast or some other bullshit. When it's cold outside, somebody will say that I should not feel cold because I am from Russia like it gives some kind of immunity to cold. People do not understand that some jokes are not funny if repeated 50 times.

I do not feel oppressed or not belonging though.


I've heard these exact jokes time and time again. I know I should be bothered by them but like you, I do not feel oppressed, just annoyed.


Hardly the same thing. As an aussie I get asked if I used to ride a Kangaroo to school. This is not the same thing at all.


People do not understand that some jokes are not funny if repeated 50 times.

The proper response to these jokes is "I've never heard that one before."


Worst is the incompetent manager who failed to address it. Very likely both the manager and offensive employee still are there. People don't realize that their resistance to rock the boat prolong the suffering of others who will come along later.

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